A new controversy is brewing in the sport of Nascar. On lap 393 of Sunday’s race at Richmond, Clint Bowyer spun out in front of Dale Earnhardt Jr, setting up a late race caution and restart. Now, at the time of the caution, Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman‘s Chase hopes were looking good. Ryan Newman was leading the race. If he won, he would have snagged one of the two Wild Card spots in the Chase. Jeff Gordon was running 8th at the time. He was also 10th in the points standings, 3 points ahead of Joey Logano, who was running 2 laps down. As the drivers were running before the caution, Gordon and Newman would have made the Chase while Martin Truex Jr, Bowyer’s teammate at Michael Waltrip Racing, and Joey Logano, both of whom had one win but were outside the top 10 in points, would have missed the Chase. Clint Bowyer’s spin changed all of that.
Bowyer’s spin sent all the race cars down pit road for one final pit stop. When they came out, Ryan Newman was no longer in first place. He pulled out of his box in fifth. That one bad pit stop cost Newman the race, as he eventually brought his Chevy home in 3rd place. As Newman failed to get the win, he lost out on a Chase spot to Martin Truex Jr.
However, all this would have been for naught had Jeff Gordon gotten into the Chase by beating Joey Logano on points. Logano would have still made the Chase by taking one of the Wild Card spots, but Truex would have been left on the outside looking in. Logano first put himself only one lap down by taking the wave-around under caution. However, with old tires and a starting spot at the very back of the field, it’s doubtful that Joey Logano would have been able to gain enough positions to race his way into the top 10 in points. On his last lap, Logano was the slowest car in the top 22. Logano needed some help, and Michael Waltrip Racing gave it to him.
As the field took the green flag on the final restart, Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers headed to the pits. Vickers’s crew was recorded telling him, “You’ve got to pit this time. We need that 1 point.” Bowyer’s crew held him in the pits for two laps, allowing Joey Logano to pass him on the racetrack. Vickers pitted and then drove out, but then proceeded to ride around the track 30 mph slower than any of the other cars in order to allow Joey Logano to pass him, which Logano did. Those two spots that Logano gained by passing the MWR cars proved to be the difference in Logano making the top 10 in points.
But remember, all of these shenanigans wouldn’t have happened if Bowyer hadn’t spun out. But did Bowyer spin his car intentionally? The evidence points to a resounding yes. Before the spin, Bowyer was informed that the 39 of Ryan Newman was leading, meaning that Martin Truex Jr would miss the Chase. His crew chief then cryptically asked Bowyer if his arm was hurting, and then told him to “itch it”. Bowyer then spun out.
ESPN analysts, including Rusty Wallace, declared after the race that after listening to Bowyer’s engine and seeing his actions on the in-car camera, they believed he spun out. Dale Earnhardt Jr, who was running behind Bowyer at the time of the incident, said that he saw Bowyer “hemming around on the brakes and jerking the car around, and then the thing just spun out.” Bowyer, of course denied any wrongdoing, but the evidence against him looks pretty damning.
Match fixing has always been one of the most reviled practices in sports, a sin even more heinous than drug use. Why should match fixing in Nascar be any different? The sanctioning body should deal out severe penalties after the race at Richmond. But not to Bowyer or Vickers. They’re just following orders from their bosses at MWR. If they don’t comply, they could lose their jobs. So what should Nascar do? They should hand down a massive monetary fine to Michael Waltrip Racing, something on the order of $500,000. Nascar should also right the wrong that MWR did to Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon. Increase the Chase field to 14 cars and put Newman and Gordon in the field. Because until Bowyer spun to bring out the caution, Newman and Gordon had punched their tickets to the Chase.