Saturday night's Richmond NASCAR race saw Clint Bowyer spin on his own in traffic. That helped teammate Martin Truex kept Ryan Newman from getting a berth in the championship. NASCAR has now ruled that Bowyer spun on purpose to help his teammate. Truex is out, Newman is in.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup decides its champion with a playoff-style system. Ten drivers automatically qualify for the championship after Richmond and two others are let in through a wild card. Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Newman were both eligible for that wild card. And when Newman looked to be a shoe-in for the win and wild card on Saturday night, things took a turn.
The series of events go like this:
Clint Bowyer's Spotter Brett Griffin radioed to Bowyer "The 39 (Newman) is going to win the race. Well that kinda sucks. Nine more to go." Then Bowyer's Crew Chief Brian Pattie came on the radio and said "Is your arm starting to hurt? I bet it's hot in there. Itch it." Bowyer replied "Oh yeah."
Then he spun. Pattie's response was "I think that tire was going down the whole time, man."
Tires go down in races all the time. This isn't a rare occurrence. What is strange is reports from other drivers after the incident of Bowyer forcing the car to spin on purpose, like this account from Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
That's the craziest thing I ever saw. He just came right around. We were going through (turns) 3 and 4 and I don't know if they (at NASCAR) can pull 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.
In the end, NASCAR sided with Ryan Newman's assessment of the situation that the spin was on purpose (Update below, that's not totally the reason) What that means is that Martin Truex has been bounced out of the chase and that Newman has been put in.
This hasn't been the first time we've seen rigged racing (remember the Nelson Piquet Jr. Crashgate in F1 a few years ago?), but is the first blatant version we've seen in NASCAR that I can remember.
Ty Norris, who helps run Michael Waltrip Racing, the team Truex and Bowyer drive for, has been suspended indefinitely. Bowyer has been docked 50 points, as have the other MWR cars. And Truex, the innocent party here, has been bounced out of the chase because of that penalty, which puts Newman in. Finally, MWR has been fined a record $300,000 for the incident.
This is a first, and it's rare to see NASCAR bring down the hammer this hard.
Update: NASCAR has clarified that they cannot prove that the spin was intentional (although Bowyer has called Newman to apologize), but the smoking gun was a call to pit Brian Vickers with five to go and a call on the radio from Ty Norris to his crew. NASCAR has said that was enough to say that the outcome of the race was influenced.