Thursday, February 22, 2018
Sports

Bowyer's spin sets off NASCAR investigation

With one suspicious snap of the steering wheel, Clint Bowyer changed the outcome of a race and maybe the championship, too.

Accidental or intentional, his spin in the closing laps of Saturday night's Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway in Virginia set in motion a chain of events that has shrouded the start of the Chase for the Championship and raised questions about the potential for a race team to manipulate a pivotal moment.

NASCAR is reviewing evidence to determine if Michael Waltrip Racing deliberately altered the finish to the Federated Auto Parts 400, potentially costing Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon spots in the Chase, to benefit MWR driver Martin Truex.

NASCAR president Mike Helton said Sunday, from the truck series race at Iowa, that officials in the scoring tower did not immediately see anything to believe Bowyer's spin with seven laps left at Richmond was suspicious. As Newman was leading the race, the spin brought out the caution that helped cost Newman both the race and a berth in the 12-driver Chase field. He was battling Truex for the final spot.

"(NASCAR) didn't see anything initially (Saturday) night that indicated that," Helton said, "but certainly we'll go back through all the video and everything to be sure, because we take the responsibility very serious to be sure that … everybody has had a fair chance."

An ESPN replay that included communication between Bowyer and MWR implied the spin was deliberate. He denied it.

"We had a flat tire or something. It just snapped around," Bowyer said, later adding, "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."

In-car audio indicated that Bowyer knew the situation with Newman's No. 39 car, being told "Thirty-nine is going to win the race," over his radio.

"Is your arm starting to hurt?" crew chief Brian Pattie asked. After a pause, Pattie said, "I bet it's hot in there. Itch it."

There was more intrigue: Both Bowyer and teammate Brian Vickers pitted under a green flag in the final three laps, letting Penske Racing's Joey Logano improve his position enough to pass Gordon for 10th in points and the final automatic Chase berth.

According to a review of team communications, Vickers was told by MWR general manager Ty Norris to pit because "we need that one point."

Logano's inclusion in the top 10 meant he did not take up a Chase wild-card berth — a spot Truex wound up claiming on a tiebreaker over Newman.

Elsewhere

Formula One: Sebastian Vettel earned his sixth victory this season, dominating the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. The Red Bull driver and three-time defending series champion beat Fernando Alonso by 5.5 seconds to extend his lead over his Ferrari rival to 53 points with seven races to go.

Trucks: James Buescher took control during a second green-white-checkered finish and held on to win the Fan Appreciation 200 at Iowa Speedway in Newton. Buescher cut his championship deficit to 37 points behind leader Matt Crafton, who finished seventh.

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