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Reflecting on the 2013 Richmond race, fallout

September 04, 2014, Kenny Bruce,

Bruce: Truex Jr. returns to Richmond 25th in the standings

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It's been said that Martin Truex Jr. was simply a victim of circumstances, the one Michael Waltrip Racing driver that seemed free and clear of any wrongdoing.

Yet when the dust finally settled in the wake of last year's Richmond scandal, it was Truex Jr. who found himself knocked out of NASCAR's postseason, the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. 

Five teams would eventually be penalized; two drivers would go from missing the Chase to getting a second chance.


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But few paid the price of Truex Jr., who went from making his second consecutive Chase appearance, and third overall, to finding himself embroiled in a controversy not of his making. MWR's actions led NAPA, primary sponsor for Truex Jr. and the No. 56 team, to eventually withdraw its sponsorship. Without funding, MWR was forced to trim its operation from three full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams to two. And without a team, Truex Jr. was left to look for a ride.

That isn't to say others weren't affected when NASCAR penalized MWR for attempting to manipulate the outcome of the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway.

Ryan Newman was initially knocked out of a Chase berth and a potential win following Clint Bowyer's spin with seven laps remaining.

Jeff Gordon, battling for the one of the final points positions, fell one point shy of cracking the top-10 and earning a spot in the Chase, due in part to the actions of Bowyer, teammate Brian Vickers and what officials eventually determined was yet another act of misconduct, this one involving Penske Racing (now Team Penske) and Front Row Motorsports.

And Brian France, chairman and CEO of NASCAR, was left to sort it all out, a puzzle of 43 pieces dropped in he and his executives' collective lap while fans everywhere waited to see what, if anything, would come of the Richmond debacle.

What eventually happened was unprecedented.

Like Truex, MWR teammates Bowyer and Vickers were docked 50 driver points. Crew chiefs were placed on probation and MWR was fined a record $300,000, a figure NASCAR President Mike Helton at the time called "the most major fine in our history in terms of a dollar amount."

But Bowyer, seventh before the Chase re-set, remained title eligible. Vickers, running a split schedule in the team's No. 55 entry, was racing for NASCAR Nationwide Series points with Joe Gibbs Racing, thus earning no Cup points for his efforts. 

The points penalty took Truex Jr. out of the Chase picture, and put Newman back in. 

Then, two days before the Chase was scheduled to get underway, officials announced penalties, in the form of probation, against the Penske and Front Row organizations.

They also added one more team to the Chase field, expanding it from 12 (10 based on points as well as two wild-card entries) to 13, by reinserting Gordon into the field.

"It wasn't one set of circumstances that led us to this decision," France said at the time. "It's a multiple set of circumstances that any one of them could have altered and given (Gordon) a disadvantage."

NASCAR also made changes to the spotters' stand, where team members are in constant communication with drivers on the track and crew members in the pits. Beginning with last year's first Chase race, teams were limited to one spotter per team on the stand, and each spotter could have no more than two analog radios, in addition to a scanner and Fan View mobile device.

How much of the Richmond fallout still lingers for those caught up in the fallout? Each has moved on, some finding success, while others are still searching for it.

With the Sprint Cup Series headed back to Richmond this weekend, once again with Chase berths up for grabs, two of those involved in what took place last year -- Gordon and Joey Logano -- have already secured spots in this year's 10-race playoff. 

Gordon, a four-time champion, has enjoyed a stellar season, winning three times and heading to Richmond with the points lead.

Logano, fourth in points, has also won three times, doubling his career victory total through this year's first 25 races.

The others are still in contention, and a win by Newman, Bowyer, Vickers or Truex Jr. would secure a spot in the 16-team field. Various scenarios could put one or more in, or keep them out.

It had already been announced that Newman would depart Stewart-Haas Racing at the end of '13. Two days after the Richmond race, he was named to driver for Richard Childress Racing for the '14 season. Although winless since capturing the Brickyard 400 a year ago, Newman has consistently finished among the top 15 this season. Ninth in points, he stands a good chance of advancing into the Chase for what would be the sixth time in his career.

MWR regrouped following the loss of NAPA, and continues to carry sponsorship from two other primary partners -- 5-hour Energy and Aaron's.

But while Bowyer (12th in points) and Vickers (18th) can still make the Chase, their seasons have been far from exceptional, with only six top-five finishes between the pair. 

Truex Jr. eventually landed at Furniture Row Racing, one of the few single-car teams in the series but one that made the Chase with driver Kurt Busch in 2013.

That likely won't be the case this season, although the "win and you're in" format certainly leaves the door open.

Truex Jr. is 25th in the standings, his lowest point heading into Richmond's fall event since he began racing full time in the Sprint Cup Series. He's managed just three top-10s, including one at Richmond earlier this year. 

A year after the fact, and with the Chase looming, NASCAR officials don't dwell on "what-ifs."

"I think we drew a line in the sand last year at Chicago, and have lived up to that in every sense," Helton said. "Once we reacted to Richmond last year, that pretty much settled it from our side. So whatever decisions we made about the Chase or anything else, that issue had been resolved and didn't play a role in that."


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