CHARLOTTE, N.C. – From afar, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has watched Martin Truex Jr.’s body language to see how his former teammate is handling the fallout from the Michael Waltrip Racing race-fixing fiasco at Richmond.
He’s had a much closer view of the toll it’s taken on Clint Bowyer, who triggered the entire controversy when he spun in the Sept. 7 race with seven laps remaining. NASCAR said it could not prove the spin was intentional; should Bowyer admit that, he risks retroactive penalties.
NASCAR did have evidence that MWR attempted to manipulate the finish to get Truex into the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. It issued harsh sanctions against the organization that included knocking Truex out of the Chase. In response, the Truex sponsor, NAPA Auto Parts, said it’s ending its association with the team at the end of the year.
“It’s almost been as hard to watch Clint go through this as it has been to watch Truex go through it, because Clint is a good guy and obviously was just following orders,” Earnhardt said. “He did some things that were out of character and regrettable, and he feels terrible to have any involvement in it. I know that for a fact. I know that to be genuine.
“It’s been tough watching him go through that process, too, because he’s not that kind of guy to go starting that kind of mess.”
Earnhardt was penalized by NASCAR in 2004 for intentionally spinning to bring out a caution he needed. He admitted his guilt and NASCAR punished him.
Bowyer and MWR have maintained that his spin was not deliberate, but it was the act that set in motion the chain of events that could put Truex out of work at the end of the season. With NAPA pulling its sponsorship, MWR could be forced to shutter the No. 56 team and let go up to 100 employees if funding can’t be found in the next two months.
“I haven’t had a chance to talk to Truex, but I’ve kept an eye on him and just seeing his body language, he seems to be handling it as good as he can,” Earnhardt said. “None of us really know what opportunities are being presented. He’s certainly one of the best drivers in the sport.”