CONCORD, N.C. — Clint Bowyer's spin got all the attention at Richmond, but a few questions from a puzzled Brian Vickers and the promise of a postrace kiss led to one hefty punishment from NASCAR.
Ryan Newman replaced Martin Truex in the Chase for the Championship on Monday when NASCAR penalized Michael Waltrip Racing for manipulating the outcome of Saturday's Sprint Cup race.
"I am proud that NASCAR took a stand with respect to what went on Saturday night at Richmond," Newman said in a statement. "I know it was a tough decision to make."
NASCAR fined MWR $300,000, and general manager Ty Norris received an indefinite suspension. Truex, Bowyer and Vickers were docked 50 points apiece — but before points were reset for the 10-race playoff, so Bowyer's deduction does not affect his position in the Chase, which begins Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway.
Newman led with seven laps left at Richmond, where a victory would have given him the final spot in the 12-driver Chase. But Bowyer spun to bring out a caution, setting in motion a chain of events that led to Newman losing the race and the final Chase berth, which instead went to Bowyer's teammate, Truex.
NASCAR reviewed communication between Bowyer and his MWR crew that seemed to indicate the spin was deliberate, plus evidence that suggested the team had Bowyer and Vickers take a dive — by pitting under green — so Joey Logano would knock Jeff Gordon out of Chase contention. Logano gained enough spots to pass Gordon for 10th in points, the last automatic Chase spot, which in turn gave Truex a wild card.
NASCAR did not adjust the standings to put Gordon into the Chase — he was in before Bowyer's spin — because NASCAR president Mike Helton said it was impossible to address all the scenarios.
"We don't react to the ripple effect of an occurrence because I don't think there's any way we can reasonably do that," Helton said.
The Associated Press reviewed in-car communications between Norris and Vickers — and those transmissions alarmed NASCAR.
"We're probably going to pit here on green," Norris said.
After an exchange, Vickers said, "What? I've got to pit? I don't understand. Pit right now?"
"You've got to pit this time. We need that one point," Norris responded.
"10-4. Do I got a tire going down?" Vickers said.
Vickers then pitted under green. When he asked after if his crew found anything with the tire, Norris replied, "I'll see you after the race, Brian, I owe you a kiss."
Helton indicated Monday that conversation was the smoking gun against MWR.
Waltrip also mentioned the sequence when he apologized in a statement Monday night. Norris also apologized on Twitter: "There was no time to think, just act. Though it was to benefit MWR, it is now clear it was to the detriment of the sport I love and have called home for the past 24 years."
The controversy put a damper on Newman's announcement on Monday that he had reached a deal with Richard Childress Racing to replace Jeff Burton next season in the No. 31 Chevrolet.
Now he gets the chance to compete for the title in his final races with Stewart-Haas Racing.
MWR will not appeal the penalties, which included probation for crew chiefs Brian Pattie (Bowyer), Scott Miller (Vickers) and Chad Johnston (Truex) through the end of the year.