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.