Craig Murto: Matt McCall should not be proud

Craig Murto


Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series crew chief Matt McCall is not sorry that he won $20,000 for finishing first in the Late Model Stock Car portion of the Thanksgiving Classic at North Carolina’s Southern National Motorsports Park.

But the former Late Model regular, now Jamie McMurray’s crew chief in the Cup Series, should feel a lot of shame.

A caution was displayed for a hard crash with about 20 laps remaining in the 200-lap affair, and eventually the track went red to give the fans some green-flag racing after the wreck was cleaned up. During the red it was determined that as the cars crossed the start/finish line on the last completed lap before the caution, McCall was ahead of Justin Johnson as the two raced side by side.

That gave McCall the inside on the restart. For nearly 30 laps prior, McCall had to restart on the outside of then leader Johnson. But the outside line wasn’t conducive to passing, and although McCall obviously had the stronger car at the end, Johnson held the bottom and McCall could not clear Johnson’s car on the outside.

But once the race restarted with McCall on the inside, he drove away from the rest of the field. He clearly had the better car.

A crew member for Johnson’s team interrupted Victory Lane celebrations to voice his displeasure, claiming McCall never cleared Johnson and was not ahead at the last completed lap. When interviewed for the crowd, Johnson himself claimed to be the rightful winner of the race.

Fast forward three hours as the two lead cars were torn down in technical inspection. Sure enough, the transponder – the electronic device used to determine the position of the car on the racetrack – in McCall’s car was not in the legal position behind the right-rear frame rail, but forward of that position.

That’s why scoring showed McCall’s car slightly ahead at the last completed lap before the final caution, even though video evidence released after the fact showed the exact opposite.

NASCAR to this day has a longstanding policy that the fans leaving the racetrack should know who won the race. Many short tracks also adhere to that policy. Given the fact that McCall dominated the final 20 laps and pulled away from the field, the original outcome of the race was declared official and Matt McCall awarded the win.

But technically McCall’s car was not legal, and the forward position of its transponder gave McCall the inside line on the final restart. The rule book is very clear as to where the transponder should be placed.

Track officials were in an impossible situation. I understand the philosophy of wanting the fans to head home assured they know who won the race. And I also understand that as fast as McCall ran at the end, and the way he drove away from the field, it’s hard not to say he won the race.

I have not heard of any penalty. Personally, if I were in charge, McCall would have been disqualified and Justin Johnson given the win. Not only that, but McCall would have been assessed a fine, one which if not paid basically banned him and the race team for which he drove from the track. At the very least, even if allowed to keep the win and the trophy, I would have withheld the winner’s purse from McCall as a fine for the misplaced transponder.

Certainly transponder location will be on a pre-race checklist for tech officials in the future. Hopefully other competitors will understand and forgive the tough situation the track found itself in. But racers want to know they are beaten fair and square, and many refuse to race at facilities they feel don’t enforce the rules.

And that’s why McCall should not be proud of this win. He’s a Cup-level crew chief; surely he knows how to read the rule book. The crew chief on the Late Model may be the person responsible for the transponder in the car, but McCall understands that the placement gave him an advantage when it counted the most. It’s a shame that somebody from his level of racing dropped to a lower level and took away one of the best winner’s purses of the year with a car that technically was not legal. It’s truly a shame that he embroiled the track in the controversy it now finds itself.