Chase Off To Sour Start After A Hinky Spin
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
Did he or didn’t he? The answer to that lies somewhere deep within Clint Bowyer’s conscience this morning but there is one thing that is non-debatably certain: The 2013 Chase to the Sprint Cup Champion will begin with very serious controversy hanging over it.
Story lines were popping all over the wonderful old Richmond International Raceway as the Federated Auto Parts 400 wound down toward a conclusion late Saturday night. The story lines involved everybody from former champions to lame ducks.
But with seven laps to go, the big story broke as Bowyer, running sans traffic and who was long-since locked into the 12-driver Chase playoff, suddenly spun to bring out the final caution flag of the night.
And a convenient spin it was for his Michael Waltrip Racing teammate, Martin Truex Jr. It put him into the Chase.
It also knocked a couple other popular drivers out of the Chase.
Before the caution, third-place finisher Ryan Newman, had grabbed the race lead from Edwards on Lap 391 and was cruising to a win that would have kept him in the Chase and knocked Truex out.
At the same time, Jeff Gordon was running seventh and Joey Logano 25th, with Gordon provisionally in the top 10 and Logano out.
A victory for Newman, which would have been his second of the year, would have knocked one-time winner Logano out of the Chase completely, but that all changed with Bowyer’s spin. Newman stopped for four tires and came off pit road in fifth place and could only gain two positions in the final three-lap dash.
Truex got out of his car and said, “Good Lord was on our side tonight.”
Others who were on the track thought the intervention was anything but Devine.
And the question became: Did Bowyer spin deliberately in an effort to get Truex and his team and his sponsors into the Chase?
Bowyer told reporters, “We had a flat tire or something.”
Then, “I think we had something going wrong,” Bowyer, who led 72 circuits but lost a lap when Jimmie Johnson’s blown tire caused the fourth caution on Lap 343 of 400, said. “The 88 (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) got up underneath me. I had so much wheel, by the time I got to the gas, he was underneath me. I spun out…
“It’s unfortunate. 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.”
While only Bowyer – and perhaps a few close associates – know what happened with seven laps to go during the Richmond race, there is evidence that there was something hinky about the spin.
Most of the evidence is circumstantial. Like odd remarks by Bowyer’s spotter, Brett Griffin, made immediately before the spin and immediately after Griffin had filled Bowyer in on MWR’s situation. Like team owner Michael Waltrip reportedly telling Truex after that race, “You’ve got awesome teammates.”
The actions around the third MWR teammate, Brian Vickers, were interesting late in the race.
There was some anecdotal evidence, also.
Earnhardt, who was running closest to Bowyer at the critical moment, said, “He just spun right out. That’s the craziest thing I ever saw. He just came right around. We were going into, through 3 and 4, and I don’t know if they can put up his brakes and his gas. We got all the technology. But he was hemming around on the brakes and jerking the car around, and then the thing just spun out. It was crazy. I don’t know what was going on. It was right there, I almost run into it, so I’m glad we were able to get out of there without any trouble.”
NASCAR officials quickly said they were certain there was no foul play and would take no action. Nor did they take issue with the final restart, which videos showed race-winner Carl Edwards jumping the start.
Gordon refused to speculate on Bowyer’s spin, as he didn’t see it – though, after talking to Hendrick Motorsport teammate Earnhardt today, he may have his opinion altered.
And Newman, also out of position to witness the spin, correctly pointed out that a slow pit stop during the caution also played a big part in his failure to make the Chase in his final season with Stewart-Haas Racing.
“We should have been able to come off pit road first and come off pit road first if we were a championship contending team,” Newman said. “We needed a championship contending pit crew, and we didn’t have that tonight.”
So, Truex and Logano are in, Gordon and Newman are out and NASCAR finds itself with a controversy on its hands.
The thing is, it’s not one of those ha-ha, that’s just racin’, no blood-no foul controversies. It is one of those which involves core values and integrity of the entire sport. It is a controversy which puts the basic honesty of NASCAR in the spotlight.
If Bowyer spun on purpose, it is race fixing, pure and simple.
Time was, a France family member would hold a little closed door meeting with those involved with suspicious behavior. And when that meeting ended, that France family member had better have been convinced there was no hanky panky.
On Sunday, NASCAR did send out a statement reading: “NASCAR is reviewing Saturday night’s race at Richmond International Raceway per protocol and has no plans for further statement until that process is complete.”
Here’s hoping everything that happened with seven laps to go was just as Bowyer described. But here’s knowing that the Federated Auto Parts 400 will leave a bad taste in a lot of mouths and be a top topic next weekend in Joliet.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments