CHARLOTTE, N.C. — NASCAR is reviewing evidence to determine if Michael Waltrip Racing deliberately attempted to manipulate the outcome of the race that set the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field.
NASCAR President Mike Helton told The Associated Press before Sunday’s Truck Series race at Iowa that officials in the scoring tower did not immediately see anything to believe Clint Bowyer’s spin with seven laps remaining at Richmond was suspicious.
It brought out a caution with Ryan Newman leading Saturday night and poised to claim the final berth in the 12-driver Chase field. Instead, it set in motion a chain of events that led to Bowyer teammate Martin Truex Jr. earning the final berth and Newman losing both the race and a spot in the Chase.
“We didn’t see anything that indicated that anything like that was taking place. And it’s natural when everything was as close as it was between who was going to get in and not go in to scratch your heads and try to figure out and wonder why,” Helton said. “But we didn’t see anything initially (Saturday) night that indicated that, but certainly we’ll go back through all the video and everything to be sure, because we take the responsibility very serious to be sure that it’s — that everybody has had a fair chance.”
An ESPN replay that included communication between Bowyer and his team implied the spin was deliberate. Bowyer was shown the video after the race and denied he spun intentionally, a claim he repeated throughout the post-race activities.
“We had a flat tire or something. It just snapped around,” Bowyer said, later adding, “I know it’s a lot of fun for you guys to write a lot of wacky things. Go ahead if you want to, get creative. But don’t look too much into it.”
But the in-car audio framed the situation as his crew goading him into spinning his car to bring out the yellow while Newman, who was battling Truex for the second wild-card berth in the Chase, was leading the race.
“Thirty-nine is going to win the race,” Bowyer was told over his radio.
“Is your arm starting to hurt?” crew chief Brian Pattie asked. After a pause, Pattie said, “I bet it’s hot in there. Itch it.”
Bowyer’s car then spun.
NASCAR did not have access to that audio until after the race, and it is presumably among the materials Helton was reviewing Sunday.
The race resumed with three laps to go and four-time series champion Jeff Gordon poised to claim the 10th spot in the Chase, with Joey Logano in line for the second wild-card.
But Bowyer and Vickers both made pit stops that helped Logano improve his finishing position enough that he claimed the 10th Chase berth, thus eliminating Gordon from contention. It freed up the wild card for Truex, and Gordon was not eligible for the wild card.