|ESPN.com: Sprint Cup||[Print without images]|
CONCORD, N.C. -- While Clint Bowyer's spin got all the attention at Richmond, a few questions from a puzzled Brian Vickers and the promise of a post-race kiss led to one hefty punishment from NASCAR.
Ryan Newman replaced Martin Truex Jr. in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship on Monday night when NASCAR penalized Michael Waltrip Racing for manipulating the outcome of last weekend's race.MWR was fined $300,000 and general manager Ty Norris received an indefinite suspension. Truex, Bowyer and Vickers were docked 50 points apiece -- but Bowyer's deduction does not affect his position in the Chase, which begins Sunday at Chicago.
"We penalize to not have this happen again," NASCAR president Mike Helton said. "It's a message from the league saying, 'You can't do this.'"
Newman was leading late during Saturday night's race at Richmond, where a victory would have given him the final spot in the 12-driver Chase field. But Bowyer spun to bring out a caution, setting in motion a chain of events that ultimately led to Newman losing the race and Bowyer teammate Truex earning the final Chase berth.
Bowyer, interviewed Tuesday on "SportsCenter," was evasive when asked if he intentionally spun out at Richmond.
“"We're going to get through this as a race team. Somehow, through all of this, I have to get my focus back on the Chase," Bowyer said.
I am proud that NASCAR took a stand with respect to what went on Saturday night at Richmond. I know it was a tough decision to make. With that being said, myself, Matt Borland (crew chief) and this entire No. 39 team are looking forward to competing for the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.” -- Ryan Newman
Newman appeared on "SportsCenter" late Monday and said he had heard from Bowyer after NASCAR's announced penalties and said that Bowyer apologized and told him he'd been sick to his stomach for two days. Earlier Monday, Newman released a statement saying he appreciated NASCAR's ultimate response to what transpired at Richmond.
"I am proud that NASCAR took a stand with respect to what went on Saturday night," Newman said in the statement. "I know it was a tough decision to make. With that being said, myself, [crew chief] Matt Borland and this entire No. 39 team are looking forward to competing for the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship."
In examining the situation, NASCAR reviewed communication between Bowyer and his MWR crew that seemed to indicate the spin was deliberate, as well as additional evidence that suggested MWR had Bowyer and Vickers take dives over the final three laps so Joey Logano would knock Jeff Gordon out of Chase contention in yet another attempt to help Truex.
NASCAR did not adjust the standings to put Gordon into the Chase -- he was in before Bowyer's spin -- because Helton said it was impossible to address all the scenarios.
"We know from experience, if you try to look at ripple effect, you can't cover all bases that's equitable and credible across board," said Helton, who also said NASCAR was unable to prove Bowyer spun intentionally. "There's a lot of chatter, but we didn't see any conclusive evidence."
The AP reviewed team communications for Bowyer and Vickers on Sunday, and Vickers was told by Norris to pit because "we need that one point."
"We're probably going to pit here on green," Norris says.
"Are you talking to me?" a surprised Vickers asks.
Vickers continued to question the call, at one point asking, "I don't understand, pit right now?"
"You've got to pit this time. We need that one point," Norris replies.
"10-4. Do I got a tire going down?" Vickers asked.
Vickers then pitted as the field went green. When he asked if his crew had found anything with the tire, Norris replied, "I'll see you after the race, Brian, I owe you a kiss."
Helton indicated Monday that that conversation between Norris and Vickers, with Vickers' confusion over the directives he was given, was the smoking gun against MWR.
"Ty Norris confirmed the conversation most everyone has heard with the 55 driver," Helton said.
Waltrip also mentioned the sequence when he apologized in a statement Monday night.
"What occurred on the No. 55 radio at the end of Saturday night's race in Richmond was a split-second decision made by team spotter Ty Norris to bring the No. 55 to pit lane and help a teammate earn a place in the Chase," he said. "We regret the decision and its impact."
Norris also apologized in a series of tweets posted late Monday night.
"There was no time to think just. Though it was to benefit MWR it is now clear it was to the detriment of the sport I love and have called home for the past 24 years."
He also wrote:
Pg. 4 .. I apologize to all who were affected by that decision in the greatest race for the chase in its 10 yr history— Ty Norris (@Tymwr) September 10, 2013
Gordon's reaction to NASCAR's ruling focused on Truex, who did nothing to land in his teammates' mess, and Bowyer, who escaped unscathed.
Gordon posted on Twitter:
Feel bad for Truex. He got in under controversy now out due to it. But the guy who started all of this not effected at all??? Don't agree!— Jeff Gordon (@JeffGordonWeb) September 10, 2013
Bowyer denied Saturday night he intentionally spun and that Truex was an unwitting participant. Waltrip said the team will learn from what happened and move on.
"As general manager, Ty Norris has been an integral part of Michael Waltrip Racing since its founding and has my and [co-owner] Rob Kauffman's full support," Waltrip said.
The controversy surrounding Saturday's race put a damper on Newman's Monday announcement that he had reached a deal with Richard Childress Racing to replace Jeff Burton next season in the No. 31 Chevrolet.
"What happened to me Saturday night is the toughest thing that I've ever gone through in any kind of racing in my 30 years of driving because of the way everything went down," Newman said.
Now Newman gets the chance to compete for the title in his final races with Stewart-Haas Racing. He won the Brickyard this year and has 17 career victories.
"Obviously, we're very pleased with NASCAR's decision to provide Ryan Newman's rightful place in this year's Chase," SHR co-owner Tony Stewart said in a statement. "NASCAR was put in a very difficult position Saturday night at Richmond and we commend the sanctioning body for taking the time to do the necessary due diligence to ensure that the right call was made."
In-car audio from Saturday night's race framed the situation as Bowyer's crew goading him into spinning his car to bring out the yellow in an effort to prevent Newman from winning. When the race resumed with three laps to go, Gordon was poised to claim the 10th spot in the Chase, and Logano was ahead of Truex in position to claim the second wild card.
But Bowyer and Vickers both made pit stops in the final three laps, allowing Logano to improve his position and move ahead of Gordon. That bumped Gordon from contention and freed the wild card for Truex. Gordon was not eligible for the wild card.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.