CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR took the unprecedented step of effectively altering its results Monday, putting Ryan Newman into the Chase for the Sprint Cup and removing Martin Truex Jr.
Gone from the Chase for the Sprint Cup is Michael Waltrip Racing driver Truex Jr., who made the Chase after teammates Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers manipulated the outcome of Saturday night's Richmond race under orders from the team.
Although Newman, whose Chase hopes were seemingly thwarted by MWR's foul play, was installed into the Chase, Jeff Gordon, who was also a victim, remained out.
"We penalize for it to ask for it to not happen again," NASCAR president Mike Helton said. "It's a message from the sanctioning body to say, 'You can't do this.'"
NASCAR levied a record-setting fine of $300,000 and docked each driver 50 points. Curiously, though, it made the points penalty affect only the regular season – meaning Bowyer will be able to start the Chase only 15 points behind leader Matt Kenseth.
MWR general manager Ty Norris, who ordered Vickers to pit late in Saturday race, also was suspended indefinitely.
Newman made the Chase and Gordon did not because the 50 points dropped Truex behind Newman in the wild card race. Gordon failed to make the top 10 in points and was not eligible for a wild card.
"It's difficult. It's not an easy decision to make," Helton said. "The conversations about it were deep. We feel we researched it very well and talked great length with folks from Michael Waltrip Racing to try to get to the right spot and make the correct decision. That's what we feel we have done."
Newman was en route to making the 10-race playoff with a victory Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway until Bowyer spun out by himself with seven laps left.
Radio chatter and in-car camera footage later revealed Bowyer may have spun out on purpose. Afterward, Bowyer lost two laps and teammate Vickers mysteriously pitted, helping MWR's Truex Jr. make the Chase instead of Newman (the outcome was decided on a tiebreaker).
"Based upon our review of Saturday night's race at Richmond, it is our determination that the MWR organization attempted to manipulate the outcome of the race," Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition, said in a press release issued by NASCAR. "As the sport's sanctioning body, it is our responsibility to ensure there is a fair and level playing field for all of our competitors and this action today reflects our commitment to that."
Newman initially declined to comment on the possible funny business, but after getting more information said he believed MWR directly manipulated the outcome.
"It's pretty obvious to me the decisions that were made and the communication led up to that," he said before NASCAR's announcement. "What happened to me on Saturday night is the toughest thing I've ever gone through in any kind of racing in my 30 years of driving because of the way everything went down. In hindsight, it hurt that much more."
With MWR teammate Truex Jr. among a handful of drivers fighting for a wild card slot, the timing and the way Bowyer spun seemed suspicious to some and led to Monday's historic revision of results.
Here's a look at the in-car audio from Bowyer and Vickers:
Clint Bowyer audio
With nine laps to go
Spotter Brett Griffin: "(No.) 39 (Ryan Newman) is going to win the race. … Well, that kinda sucks. Nine more (laps) right here."
Crew chief Brian Pattie: "Is your arm starting to hurt? I bet it's hot in there. Itch it."
Clint Bowyer: "Oh yeah."
Griffin: "Right with you, 88 (Dale Earnhardt Jr.). Right with you, right with you, right with you."
(Bowyer spins out)
Pattie: "I think that tire was going down the whole time, man."
Brian Vickers audio
(With four laps to go)
Crew: "We're probably going to pit here on green."
Vickers: "Are you talking to me?
Crew: "Yeah, we're going to pit."
Vickers: "What? I've got to pit? … I don't understand. Pit right now?"
Crew: "You've got to pit this time. We need that one point."
Vickers: "10-4. Do I got a tire going down?"
Crew: "Yeah. … Come down pit road right now, get a good look at it."
Vickers: "Did you find anything?"
Crew: "I'll see you after the race, Brian. I owe you a kiss."