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For Ryan Newman, not even joining Richard Childress Racing after five years of intermittent discussions could ease the sting of "the toughest thing I've ever gone through in any kind of racing in my 30 years of driving."
He meant being robbed, as a lot of evidence indicates, of a potential race win and a Chase berth by Clint Bowyer's highly suspicious spinout at Richmond on Saturday night. Newman made that telling statement during Monday's announcement that he'll be joining RCR next season.
Right now it's tough to comment on it because I know it's being reviewed. But I do know that based on my opinion inside a race car, and watching and listening and understanding the communication that there was then, it was not entirely an accident.” -- Ryan Newman on Clint Bowyer's spinout at Richmond
Intentional or not, Bowyer's spin while Newman was leading with seven laps to go put Bowyer's Michael Waltrip Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. into the 12th and final Chase berth, leaving Newman to ride out his lame-duck season with Stewart-Haas Racing.
"Right now it's tough to comment on it because I know it's being reviewed," Newman said, referring to NASCAR's ongoing investigation of the Bowyer incident. "But I do know that based on my opinion inside a race car, and watching [video of the incident] and listening [to recorded radio conversation between Bowyer and his crew] and understanding the communication that there was then, it was not entirely an accident."
Calling it the toughest ordeal of his career was saying a lot for Newman, 35, who began racing quarter midgets at age 5, came up through the ranks of sprint cars on the way to NASCAR, had friction with teammate Rusty Wallace while at Team Penske and just this past July was notified by owner Tony Stewart that he would be let go from SHR at the end of this season.
But Newman made Saturday night's incident an absolute "because of the way everything went down, and how, in hindsight, it hurt that much more," he said.
Immediately after the Richmond race, a clearly shaken Newman had at first expressed no opinion about Bowyer, instead pointing out that he'd still had another chance to win the race, but had been let down by his pit crew on the final stop. Newman was beaten out of the pits by Carl Edwards, who went on to win the race.
For Newman, what might have been a second win would have locked him into a wild-card berth. Instead, he wound up tied with Truex, each with a win apiece, and Truex getting the last spot on a tiebreaker -- second-place finishes this season.
But as Saturday night, then Sunday, and Monday wore on, Newman was able to review more and more evidence, including a review of recordings by The Associated Press that sniffed of intent between Bowyer and his crew chief, Brian Pattie.
First came a radio warning from Pattie that "[the] 39 [Newman] is going to win the race," and then, according to the AP review, "Is your arm starting to hurt?" ... and then "I bet it's hot in there. Itch it."
Then came the spin.
The AP review also indicated other questionable actions by the MWR team, including ordering another teammate, Brian Vickers, to pit without clear cause late in the race, and also bringing Bowyer in again. Intentional or not, it all had the makings of an elaborate chess game to get Truex a better finish and into the Chase.
|Ryan Newman and team owner Tony Stewart meet after Saturday night's Sprint Cup race at Richmond. Newman missed out on a potential Chase berth due to a late spinout by Clint Bowyer.|
Bowyer denied spinning intentionally, citing a possible flat tire and even placing some blame on Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was running right behind him before the spin.
But Earnhardt, the nearest eyewitness, also amounted to chief prosecutor at the scene, right after the race.
"He [Bowyer] was hemming around on the brakes and jerking the car around, and then the thing just spun out," Earnhardt said. "I was right there."
Newman, asked if Monday's announcement of a fresh start with RCR might salve the matter, acknowledged, "For a week I knew this announcement was coming. But in the end, I don't think it's anything to compare or contrast, or say that the positive outweighs the negative, or even compensates for it.
"They're two different things. This announcement is to tell everybody how much we look forward to [the new relationship] and how much we have coming down the pipeline ... "
Even with the NASCAR review, "I don't know how anybody is going to react, or put their foot down, or penalize, or do anything in respect to all this," Newman said. "So I guess I'm kind of waiting to see what comes of it."
The Newman deal with RCR is the culmination of years of discussions.
"Richard and I had talked roughly five years before I went to Stewart-Haas Racing and just didn't have the moons correctly aligned," Newman said.
"We'd talked to Ryan for a while about potentially becoming a fourth team driver here," RCR chief operating officer Torrey Galida confirmed, "and weren't quite able to put that all together. But this time is a scenario we believe is going to work for everybody."
Everybody, that is, except for veteran Jeff Burton, whom Newman will replace on RCR's No. 31 team. And indications Monday were that Childress may have been considering replacing Burton before this season even started.
"Richard came to me Daytona 500 week [this past February] and wanted to know what I was doing in 2014," Newman said. "I told him I needed to lay some groundwork [at SHR] with the new team we'd started with [crew chief] Matt Borland ... and that it was too early to even think about that, but that I appreciated the offer.
"Our conversations matured over time and then obviously after Loudon [in July], when I was told [by Stewart] what I wasn't going to be doing, our conversations intensified," Newman said.