CONCORD, N.C. (AP) - His reputation has been battered, his team blasted by NASCAR for manipulating the outcome of a pivotal race. Now Clint Bowyer will do his best to pick up the pieces and try to salvage his season.
It was his first public comment since NASCAR launched an investigation into his Saturday night spin at Richmond and ultimately uncovered a series of deliberate actions by Michael Waltrip Racing to alter the race results and the field for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. The sordid saga concluded Monday with a hefty penalty that saw Ryan Newman replace Martin Truex Jr. in the Chase as MWR was fined $300,000, and general manager Ty Norris received an indefinite suspension.
“We penalize to ask for it to not happen again,” NASCAR President Mike Helton said. “It’s a message from the league or the sanctioning body saying `You can’t do this.’”
Newman was leading with seven laps remaining Saturday night 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 the Chase berth, which instead went to Bowyer teammate Truex.
While examining the situation, NASCAR reviewed communication between Bowyer and his Michael Waltrip Racing crew that seemed to indicate the spin was deliberate, as well as additional evidence that suggested MWR had Bowyer and Vickers take a dive over the final three laps so Joey Logano would knock Jeff Gordon out of Chase contention in yet another attempt to help Truex.
“We don’t react to the ripple effect of an occurrence because I don’t think there’s any way we can reasonably do that,” Helton said. “We look at the incident and only the incident because we know from experience that if you try to look at the ripple effect of an incident, you can’t cover all those bases. You can’t ever come up with a conclusion that is equitable and credible across the board.”
Newman was moved into the Chase because the points deductions to the MWR drivers were made to their totals at the conclusion of Saturday night’s race. Once Truex lost his 50 points, it dropped him to 17th in the standings and below Newman, who then moved into position for the second wild card into the Chase field.
Gordon was never eligible for the wild card, and MWR tried to further manipulate the standings by knocking him out of the top 10 to make sure Logano didn’t grab the wild card the team wanted for Truex. They did it by having Vickers and Bowyer pit in the closing laps of the race, which was revealed in team communications reviewed by The Associated Press on Sunday.
“We’re probably going to pit here on green,” Norris says.
“Are you talking to me?” Vickers replies in surprise.
“Yeah, we’re going to pit,” Norris says.