Late spin sends rumors through garage, No. 39 out of contention
RICHMOND, Va. -- "It was," said Dale Earnhardt Jr., “the craziest thing I ever saw.”
“He just spun right out.”
Earnhardt Jr. was behind Clint Bowyer when the Michael Waltrip Racing driver spun on the frontstretch with less than 10 laps remaining in Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway.
The incident proved to be a godsend for Bowyer’s teammate, Martin Truex Jr.
It was a nail in the coffin for Ryan Newman. And it took no time for rumors that the spin was intentional to surface.
The resulting caution wasn’t the reason Newman fell from first to fifth; that blow was delivered on pit road. It merely set the wheels in motion.
“The guys on pit road didn’t give me what I needed. I don’t know what I could have done any better,” the Stewart-Haas Racing driver said of his final pit stop.
Leading the race at the time of the caution, and needing a victory to secure a position in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Newman’s post-season went up in a cloud of smoke. Third place, his eventual finishing position, was no place. Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch and Newman shot past leader Paul Menard on the final restart, but Newman could advance no farther.
After 26 races, he and Truex wound up with the same number of points: 741. Both had one win. But Truex had the next tie-breaker, runner-up finishes, covered, and the Chase spot secured.
Truex had more than that, according to team co-owner Michael Waltrip, who sidled up to his driver on pit road afterwards to announce, "Man, you’ve got some great teammates!"
“I know,” replied Truex.
Newman, who will leave Stewart-Haas Racing at season's end (he’s expected to join Richard Childress Racing for 2014), said his team “did what we needed to do.
“We just didn’t have everything buttoned up at the end,” he said. “That’s tough; that’s part of it. It’s about as disappointing as it can get. We’re the peak of bad drama here tonight and that’s on my shoulders.”
Newman said there was never any question about whether or not to pit.
“I knew we needed to put four tires on it, I knew we still had a shot to win and that was our mission for the race.”
As for the conspiracies, Newman may or may not buy into such things, but said in the end, it didn’t matter.
“If that was the case, I’ll find out one way or the other,” he said. “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.”
Team co-owner Tony Stewart said he could imagine such an intentional incident (“Making the Chase is a big deal to a lot of teams,” he said), but added that he was on the other end of pit road for most of the race.
“I didn’t see it, so that’s the hard thing,” said Stewart, recovering from a broken leg suffered last month. "I didn’t hear any radio stuff, I didn’t see anything. I was down there in Turn 3 and 4 so I don’t know. I didn’t even realize what… I just knew we were out.
“I heard (Matt) Borland (crew chief) say we had to win to get in, so I didn’t know… I was down there 80 percent of the race and didn’t know what the circumstances were. I was just watching the cars so it is what it is.”
Bowyer, with a berth in the Chase already locked up before Saturday night’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, finished 25th.
“The 88 (of Earnhardt) got up underneath of me,” Bowyer said afterward. ”I had so much wheel, by the time I got to the gas, he was underneath me (and) I spun out.
“It’s unfortunate. Trust me, I would have much rather been winning the race and been over in Victory Lane than here bummed out. Extremely bummed, you know, the outcome of the race. Even more bummed once you get out you realize there were implications.”
It was, he said, unfortunate.
“I know it’s a lot of fun for you guys to write a lot of whacky things. Go ahead if you want to, get creative.
“But,” he added, “don’t look too much into it.”