If you ain't cheatin', so goes the old saying, you ain't tryin', and that sounds innocuous, rather charming in a way. Without any ethical baggage, human risk or monetary loss, cheating is a rascal's journey through a wink and a nod. Anybody looking? No? Good. Hold that lineman. Scuff that baseball. Throw that elbow. Cork that bat. Punch that stomach. Anybody listening? No? Good. Talk that mess. Disparage that girlfriend. Ridicule that intelligence.

No one saw it. No one heard it. So it didn't happen. How cute.

But what if the cameras are rolling? What if every word is being recorded? What if there's no place to hide? What if everyone saw it and everyone heard it? Well, you would feel like someone just took a picture of you with your finger in your nose and then put it on Facebook.

Welcome, folks, to the hugely embarrassing snapshot of Michael Waltrip, Ty Norris and Clint Bowyer, three men who would enter the Federal Witness Protection Program if they could. On Monday, NASCAR ruled that Waltrip Racing manipulated the outcome of its Richmond race. For the first time in its history, NASCAR changed the finishing order and levied the heaviest fine ($300,000) it ever has while taking away points and almost the first born of each Waltrip driver involved.

"NASCAR really didn't have a choice," said Steve Page, president and general manager at Sonoma Raceway. "What happened was flagrant and obvious. If NASCAR had ignored it, it would have damaged their credibility. It was too obvious to ignore. Look, I like Michael Waltrip and Ty Norris is a friend. But, I mean, come on guys ..."

Seven laps remained in Saturday's race. Ryan Newman was leading. Newman and a Waltrip driver, Martin Truex Jr., were battling for the 12th and last spot in the Chase. If Newman won, Truex would have been eliminated.

Over his team's radio Bowyer hears: "Is your arm starting to hurt? I bet it's hot in there. Itch it."

Bowyer is Truex's teammate. One doesn't need a CIA encryption expert to know what that meant. Spin out the car. One hand grabs the other. Car goes sideways. Caution flag comes out. Field is bunched back together. Newman's lead is vulnerable, with the pack on his bumper. Bowyer blamed Dale Earnhardt Jr. for hitting him. Junior said that was bogus, telling ESPN, "That was the craziest thing I ever saw. He just spun right out."

The video showed Bowyer was riding free and clear. He couldn't even blame a squirrel or a heat-seeking malevolent lug nut. Yes, rookies or amateurs could panic and do something like that, if they find themselves suddenly running up front. But Bowyer is one of NASCAR's better drivers.

"Let's not dig too much into this," said Bowyer, sounding a lot like Alex Rodriguez.

Please, don't pester me. Like baseball players, I evoke the right not to self-incriminate.

Norris, Waltrip's general manager, told Waltrip's third driver, Brian Vickers, to go to the pits. Vickers was confused. He said he was running fine. "We need that point," Norris said over the radio. Actually, with Vickers parked, Truex would have received that point, edging closer to that Chase berth.

The video and the recorded exchanges between crew and drivers were the smoking guns, more like rocket fire actually.

"NASCAR is in a unique position," said Page, who spent some time with the Oakland A's before coming to motorsports. "In baseball, when a manager goes out to the mound to talk to his pitcher, that conversation remains private. Only the two of them know what is said. But in NASCAR, every conversation is heard because everyone knows the radio frequencies of the teams.

"So if you know that is the case, why do you put yourself in that position?"

Oblivious is as oblivious does. To continue the baseball imagery, this is akin to A's manager Bob Melvin grabbing a microphone in Oakland's dugout and bellowing to reliever Grant Balfour: "They just hit one of our batters! First batter you face next inning, drill him!"

About the only thing Norris didn't do was this: "Make sure you spell my last name right! It's N-O-R-R-I-S."

NASCAR suspended Norris indefinitely, removed Truex from the Chase and penalized Bowyer, Vickers and Truex 50 points. Sounds punitive but not punitive enough.

Clint Bowyer still gets to race in the Chase. He created this mess. Sure, he was following orders but it was his mystery spin that caused the outage, the fines, the points penalty, the Truex removal and the nightmare NASCAR feared all along — on the last race before the Chase something like this would happen.

Tweeted Jeff Gordon: "The guy who started all of this is not (affected) at all??? Don't agree!"

Bowyer should be removed from the Chase.

Think of it as smart public relations move.

Clint Bowyer wins the Chase. Clint Bowyer is the 2013 Sprint Cup champion. Clint Bowyer pulls into victory lane that last day to a chorus of boos, and the only people clapping are his friends and family. His sponsors text, nowhere to be seen. The most embarrassing moment the sport has ever seen.

Bowyer should be removed from the Chase.

Think of it as NASCAR officials finally getting it right. In the past the poobahs have levied heavy discipline to illegal suspensions and fighting, a couple big-ticket items to other rulings that frankly appear petty: $200,000 fine last April to Matt Kenseth's crew chief for an unapproved connecting engine rod. NASCAR officials come off as a secret society to a lot of drivers and owners, making judgments that appear no more logical and sound than the reading of tea leaves.

Now the bosses have every reason to get heavy-handed, to lay heavy pipe on the forehead of the miscreants, to send the hard message, the black-and-white message. Don't mess with the Chase. Don't manipulate. Don't make fans wonder about our credibility.

This ain't a wink-and-a-nod. This ain't cute. And this ain't one of them racin' deals.

This is a black eye on the sport, and Michael Waltrip, Ty Norris and Clint Bowyer know it.


Because not one of them has contested the penalties.

"I apologize to all who were affected by that decision," tweeted Norris.

Thanks, Ty. I'm sure that made everyone feel better.

You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.