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Bowyer apologizes, 'will learn' from Richmond

September 10, 2013, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com

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Driver discusses historic Michael Waltrip Racing penalties, his future

More: Full Chase coverage | Crew chief says itching comment was about poison oak rash

In an interview on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” Tuesday afternoon, Clint Bowyer apologized to fans who were upset with his role in Saturday night’s controversial finish at Richmond International Raceway, but the Michael Waltrip Racing driver insisted his team has “owned up” and that he is ready to move forward.

Asked directly if he intentionally spun late in the race, Bowyer said “No. … It all happens so fast, I didn’t even know if (teammate Martin) Truex was even in or out at that point.’’

He continued, “Let’s not dig too much in to this. I’ve dealt with that. There’s a lot of opinions on what happened to me. I gave my interview after the race as to what happened. We’ve been given the biggest penalty in NASCAR history. We will get through this as a race team. There’s a lot of racing left.

“Somehow through all this, I’ve got to get my focus back to the Chase and business as usual. I have a lot of fans that have been with me and I appreciate that. To those that don’t agree or are upset, I apologize.”

Bowyer explained, “I went from leading the race to in the middle of a disaster. I’m extremely disappointed in the way the race was. I could have easily been in Victory Lane; it was a bad deal all the way around. Again, we’ve been penalized and we stand by our actions and have owned up to them.’’

It was the first live interview for Bowyer, whose Michael Waltrip Racing team was issued a historic fine -- $300,000 – as well as multiple point penalties, probationary status of its three crew chiefs and an indefinite suspension for one team official from NASCAR for attempting to “manipulate the outcome of the race” -- and, in effect, attempting to manipulate the 12-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field.

Bowyer was in the middle of the controversy as he had a solo spin with seven laps remaining. In-car audio revealed his crew chief telling him to “itch” his arm. Ryan Newman, who needed a victory to guarantee a spot for the Chase, was leading at the time, and Bowyer’s spin brought out a caution flag that shuffled the field.

The MWR team revealed Tuesday that Bowyer is suffering from poison oak, hence the “itch” comment. And Bowyer has consistently and adamantly denied spinning on purpose.

Bowyer also confirmed calling Newman late Monday night to apologize.

“I felt horrible that spinning on the race track actually caused him to end up lose the race and ultimately miss the Chase,’’ Bowyer said, noting he typically calls other drivers post-race to work through any on-track situation between them. “I felt bad for him. He’s a good friend, we’re going hunting in a couple weeks. I wanted to make sure that we were fine. I’m happy he’s in the Chase. As far as I’m concerned, that phone call needed to be made.

“There’s only one instance I haven’t made that phone call and that was with what happened last year,’’ Bowyer said referring to an accident between he and Jeff Gordon at Phoenix in November 2012 that resulted in a physical altercation between the drivers’ crews in the midst of the race.

Newman told ESPN on Monday night he was “shocked” when he got the call from Bowyer, but appreciated the gesture and effort.

“He called me 10 minutes after I got the phone call from NASCAR and apologized, told me he was sick to his stomach the past two days,’’ Newman recounted. “He was frustrated in his situation. He had a car that could win the race and when the caution came out he went a lap down and lost his chance to win the race and he was frustrated. We make poor decisions when we’re frustrated.

“I commend him for calling me as a competitor or a friend, someone I never thought would make that decision, but did. In the end, we’ll all go on.’’

NASCAR ruled Monday it didn’t have enough evidence to conclude Bowyer did spin on purpose. But the MWR team was also penalized in part for a questionable late-race pit stop by Brian Vickers that affected the race results, allowing Joey Logano to move up positions on track and claim a top-10 spot in the standings, which initially put MWR driver Martin Truex Jr. into the field as a Wild Card.

There was in-car audio of Vickers’ spotter, Michael Waltrip Racing President Ty Norris, directing Vickers to pit, a move the audio reveals even Vickers questioned from the cockpit.

NASCAR penalized all three MWR drivers 50 points in the standings -- before the Chase field was set -- which put Newman into the Chase and knocked Truex out.

During an awkward -- even contentious -- exchange between Bowyer and former NASCAR driver Ricky Craven -- now an ESPN NASCAR analyst -- Bowyer was asked if the controversy might put a dim light on the his credibility or force him to regain fan support.

“Of course,’’ Bowyer said. “I’m a fan of the sport, I love the fans, the passion the fans have for the sport.

“It’s a bad situation,’’ he continued. “There’s only one thing I can promise you. Chicago is going to happen this weekend and I’m going to be ready. I’m a big boy. I’ll put my helmet on this weekend and go to work.”

“I’ve got to just continue doing what I’ve always done. … Through all this, I have to do my job. I don’t want this to be the story of the Chase.

“I will earn their fan base back hopefully. I started with nothing, a dirt track racer coming up through the ranks with nothing and I’m not afraid to do it again.’’

On a later episode of Tuesday afternoon’s “SportsCenter,” Bowyer conceded it’s been a rough few days personally.

“It’s a tough situation and it is hard on me,’’ Bowyer said. “I love this sport, I love the people involved, I love my teammates. … I hate to see MWR look bad in this situation.

“The biggest thing is you learn from everything. There’s a lot of moving pieces and somehow we’ve got to pick up all the pieces from this and go on in the Chase.’’

Bowyer’s appearance on ESPN was part of a massive national NASCAR media tour featuring the 12 drivers who will begin competing in the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup this weekend in Chicago.

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