RICHMOND, Va. — NASCAR will have a new champion in 2013. For now, it has a whopper of a conspiracy theory.
Reigning champion Brad Keselowski failed to make the Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship on Saturday when an ill-timed caution ruined his run at Richmond International Raceway.
Same thing happened to Ryan Newman, who passed eventual winner Carl Edwards for the lead, just 10 laps from a win that would have gotten Newman into the Chase.
Then Clint Bowyer spun three laps later to bring out a caution that ruined Newman's race.
The benefactor? Martin Truex, Bowyer's teammate at Michael Waltrip Racing.
Edwards passed Paul Menard on a restart with three of 400 laps left and held off Kurt Busch to win the Federated Auto Parts 400 — and even that was controversial, as ESPN analyst Dale Jarrett openly questioned whether Edwards jumped the restart.
Newman, who fell to fifth while pitting during the final caution, wound up third.
Newman and Truex tied in points and each had a win this season; Truex qualified on a tiebreaker thanks to his second-place finish at Texas in April.
Conspiracy theorists accused Bowyer of spinning on purpose to help his teammate, with ESPN asking him point-blank.
Newman wasn't sure.
"They are teammates. I don't know if he looked at the scoring pylon, knew I was leading, it doesn't matter," Newman said. "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. That being said, we're out."
Truex, who broke his right wrist two weeks ago in a crash at Bristol and has been racing with a cast, said he had no idea who even caused the caution.
"I don't know. I don't have any thoughts on it. I raced my (butt) off all night long, that's all I can do."
Bowyer, who led 72 laps, denied wrongdoing and said he simply lost the handling.
"I think we had something going wrong. We went from a car capable of winning the race, leading, to … just went straight backwards," 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."
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was right behind Bowyer when he spun, wasn't so sure.
"He just spun right out. That's the craziest thing I ever saw," Earnhardt said. "He just came around."
Kasey Kahne claimed the first wild-card berth, and Joey Logano, Keselowski's teammate at Penske Racing, made the Chase for the first time by finishing 10th in points, just one ahead of four-time champion Jeff Gordon; Logano also benefited from the late restart, gaining enough positions to finish 22nd.
Matt Kenseth is the top seed for the Chase, which opens Sept. 15 at Chicagoland Speedway, with 2,015 points thanks to his five regular-season wins. Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Earnhardt Jr., Kurt Busch and Greg Biffle also claimed spots.