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NASCAR penalties shake up Chase

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Tuesday, Sep. 10, 2013

It took more than a race for Ryan Newman to make the Chase.

It took NASCAR penalizing Michael Waltrip Racing Monday, a move that removed driver Martin Truex Jr. from the 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup and added Newman.

As a result of its investigation into Saturday night’s race at Richmond, Va., NASCAR assessed 50-point penalties to the teams of Clint Bowyer, Brian Vickers and Martin Truex Jr.

The sanctions reduced the drivers’ points totals prior to the seeding of the Chase. Thus, Truex’s point total was cut to 691 and dropped him to 17th in the series standings. It also eliminated him from receiving the second wild card berth, which now goes to Newman, who is in his final season with Stewart-Haas Racing.

“I am proud that NASCAR took a stand with respect to what went on Saturday night at Richmond. I know it was a tough decision to make,” Newman said in a statement Monday night.

“With that being said, myself, (crew chief) Matt Borland and this entire No. 39 team are looking forward to competing for the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.”

NASCAR President Mike Helton said MWR had the right to appeal but it remained unclear whether the organization would exercise it.

NASCAR also docked the MWR organization $300,000 – the largest monetary fine in the sport’s history.

Ty Norris, MWR’s executive vice president/general manager and spotter for driver Brian Vickers’ No.55 car, was indefinitely suspended from NASCAR. The three crew chiefs – Brian Pattie (No. 15), Scott Miller (No. 55) and Chad Johnston (No. 56) – have been placed on NASCAR probation until Dec. 31.

“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,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president of competition.

“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.”

With seven laps left in the race Saturday night, Newman had a sizable lead and was in position to clinch a berth in the Chase with a victory.

Bowyer, who was on the lead lap, suddenly spun on his own on the frontstretch, which brought out a caution.

All of the lead-lap cars pitted, and Paul Menard took two tires and came out in the lead. Newman’s team took four tires, but came out fifth, effectively ending his chance at a victory. Newman’s loss, however, helped ensure Bowyer’s MWR teammate, Truex, would get the final wild card spot in the Chase.

Speculation began almost instantly by fans on social media and commentators in the ESPN TV booth about whether the spin was done intentionally.

In-car video and audio from played by ESPN from Bowyer’s car only fueled the controversy.

Shortly before Bowyer’s spin, his spotter reminded him it looked like Newman would win the race. Then Bowyer’s crew chief, Pattie, chimed in on the radio with two odd comments: “Is your arm starting to hurt?” he said. “I bet it’s getting hot in there. Itch it.”

Bowyer then spun out.

Helton said there was not “conclusive” evidence Bowyer spun out intentionally but radio transmissions from the No. 55 team provided the most clear-cut information MWR was attempting to alter the outcome.

Utter: 704-358-5113. Twitter: @jim_utter.

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