NMG’s Fryer uncovers NASCAR cheating, wins Beat of the Week

Jenna Fryer, being interviewed on NBC Nightly News about NASCAR cheating scandal she uncovered.

Jenna Fryer, being interviewed on NBC Nightly News about NASCAR cheating scandal she uncovered.

NMG member Jenna Fryer of Charlotte, N.C., won last week’s AP Beat of the Week award for an astounding series of scoops that revealed repeated high-level cheating by NASCAR drivers and teams to influence who made it into NASCAR’s equivalent of a postseason playoff.

Fryer, generally viewed as the country’s top auto racing writer with more than 10 years experience covering races, became suspicious about an excessive amount of cars bumping and grinding into each other in the final race before the season-ending Chase for the Championship.

While bumping other cars is standard in NASCAR races, a lot was on the line in that one: millions of dollars in bonus money and sponsorships, as well as prestige.

While NASCAR was investigating on its own, Fryer obtained driver audio files exclusively from a source and produced the first big break, that driver Brian Vickers had been ordered to basically take a dive.

Fryer nabbed another scoop on NASCAR’s disciplinary action the next day.

In the Sept. 7 race at Richmond, Va., driver Ryan Newman was leading late, and a win would have given him the 12th and final spot in the Chase. Instead, Clint Bowyer spun out, costing Newman his shot and helping Bowyer’s teammate, Martin Truex Jr., land the final Chase berth.

Driver audio files Fryer had reviewed for Michael Waltrip Racing, the team including Bowyer, Truex and Vickers, revealed an unusual number of pit stops, a late spinout and radio chatter about the “Big Dog,” even bribery.

Fryer exclusively reported that Vickers was told to give up track position late in the race, helping Truex’s chances and hurting Jeff Gordon’s. NASCAR cited her report as the smoking gun when it fined MWR $300,000 and suspended general manager Ty Norris indefinitely.

Fryer had an APNewsBreak citing two sources with the full details of the penalties 25 minutes before NASCAR announced that Truex had been cut from the field in favor of Newman _ the first time in the Chase’s 10-year history a driver was  bounced.

Fryer kept investigating, though.

As NASCAR moved to Chicago for the next race, she obtained the audio files from the Richmond race for tiny Front Row Motorsports. They revealed Front Row asking the team owned by racing titan Roger Penske _ identified as the “Big Dog” on the team radio _ for favors during the Richmond race. One of the Front Row drivers was asked to slow down enough to help Penske driver Joey Logano make the field _ and deprive Jeff Gordon of a spot. That gave Fryer another great story, although the Penske team denied any wrongdoing and NASCAR found nothing incriminating.