RICHMOND — Clint Bowyer’s spinout in the late stages of Saturday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup regular season finale that significantly impacted qualifying for the Chase for the Cup is being investigated, according to a statement from the racing organization.
With 10 laps to go, Ryan Newman was reeling in one car after the other in his bid to earn a spot in the postseason. By Lap 391 of the Federated Auto Parts 400, the 2003 driver of the year moved ahead of Carl Edwards into first place and appeared firmly in control of the outcome.
Then Bowyer briefly lost control of his No. 15 Toyota on Lap 394, forcing a caution. Following an errant pit stop, Newman fell back to fifth place out of the restart. Edwards, meanwhile, was the first to add four fresh tires, and he rode those to Victory Lane ahead of Kurt Busch and Newman.
As a result, Newman failed to qualify for the Chase. On top of that disappointment, he had to field questions about suspected collusion between Bowyer and his Michael Waltrip Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr., who claimed the second of the Chase’s two wild-card slots ahead of Newman and Jeff Gordon.
“They are teammates,” Newman said. “I don’t know if [Bowyer] looked at the scoring pylon, knew I was leading. It doesn’t matter. If that was the case, I’ll find out one way or the other. At the same time we still had the opportunity to make our own destiny and win it on pit road, and we didn’t.”
An ESPN replay that included radio conversation between Bowyer and his team moments before the spinout suggested it may have been intentional.
It was not immediately clear whether NASCAR intended to examine that particular conversation, but a release Sunday afternoon read: “NASCAR is reviewing Saturday night’s race at Richmond International Raceway and has no plans for further statement until that process is complete.”
Bowyer was ensured a spot in the Chase entering Saturday night and finished 25th in the race. After his spinout caused the restart that opened the door for Edwards’s win, both Bowyer and teammate Brian Vickers took pit stops in the final three laps. Those moves changed finishing positions enough to knock Gordon out of an automatic spot in the Chase. That in turn gave Truex — who finished seventh Saturday, one spot ahead of Gordon — the final wild-card spot over Gordon by virtue of a total-wins tiebreaker.
Kasey Kahne had secured the other wild card by virtue of two victories this year.
“It’s unfortunate,” Bowyer said. “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.”
As for the circumstances deciding the winner, there was a bit of controversy there, too. At the restart in Lap 398, replays showed Edwards jumping the line to move in front of then-leader Paul Menard, but NASCAR officials didn’t rule an infraction.
Restarts were a primary topic of conversation before the race in the drivers meeting, with NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton telling the group, “I just want to remind everybody: Do not put us in that position where we have to make the call.”
Edwards wound up winning for the second time this season and for the first time in Richmond. The victory left Edwards in first place in the final regular season Sprint Cup standings and wielding much momentum going into next week’s race at Chicagoland Speedway.
“We’re going to win the championship,” said Edwards, twice a runner-up in the 10-event Chase. “That’s our mission. That seemed like a crazy idea a month and a half ago. Everyone’s rallied together, and I can’t say enough about all the guys at the shop. This championship would mean the world to me.”
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