Here’s the sequence of events at Richmond International Raceway on Sept. 7 that started the cheating controversy:
What happened: With seven of 400 laps remaining in the race, driver Ryan Newman has a significant lead.
“Thirty-nine (Newman’s car number) is going to win the race,” says Michael Waltrip Racing spotter Brett Griffin, who is positioned high above the track and provides assistance to driver Clint Bowyer in navigating traffic. The radio communication is available to those with scanners at the track and through NASCAR.com.
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If Newman wins, he clinches one of the two wild-card spots in the Chase reserved for the drivers with the most wins that are not in the Top 10 in points. A total of 12 drivers make the Chase, a final 10-race competition to determine the season champion.
Seconds later, Bowyer’s crew chief Brian Pattie says over the radio: “Is your arm starting to hurt?” Pause. Pattie continues: “I bet it’s hot in there. Itch it.”
Bowyer responds, “Uh-huh,” then suddenly his No. 15 Toyota began to spin without contact, bringing out a caution flag. When that happens, the race is slowed to clear the track of debris.
Former driver Rusty Wallace is on the set of “ESPN on ABC,” which broadcast the race. When Bowyer’s car begins to spin, he looks at analyst partners Ray Evernham and former North Carolina basketball star Brad Daugherty. “We said, ‘Did the No.15 car spin out on purpose?’ ” Wallace recalls. “We shook our heads and agreed, ‘Yes, it did.’ ”
During the caution, all the lead-lap cars make pit stops for fuel and tires, changing the order of who is leading. Driver Paul Menard took just two new tires and leaves the pit first. Newman returns to the track in fifth place after taking four new tires, effectively ending his chance to win. The race is restarted with three laps left.
The impact: The Waltrip Racing team goal is accomplished: Get Newman out of the race lead. In order for Bowyer’s MWR teammate, Martin Truex Jr., to have a chance at making the Chase, Newman can’t win the race.
What happened: Shortly after the restart, Bowyer and fellow MWR driver Brian Vickers appear to receive more instructions on how to help Truex.
MWR team manager Ty Norris chimes in over Vickers’ radio: “We’re probably going to pit here on green.”
Vickers’ No. 55 Toyota has no visible signs of problems. There appears to be no reason for him to pull into the pits, since it would cause him to drop down the finishing order.
Sounding surprised, Vickers responds: “Are you talking to me?” He adds, “I don’t understand; pit right now?”
Norris replies, “You’ve got to pit this time. We need just one point.”
Vickers finally slows and heads toward pit road.
The impact: Vickers pulls himself out and allows Truex to move up a position in the order. Truex finishes in seventh place and in a season-long tie with Newman, who dropped from first to third place. Because of a tiebreaker based on most second-place finishes, Truex makes the Chase and Newman doesn’t. Bowyer, already in the Chase, drops from running in the top 15 and on the lead lap to 25th, two laps down. And Vickers, a part-time driver for Waltrip who is not in contention for the Chase, falls from running in the top 20 to finish 24th, a lap down.
Days later, NASCAR fined Michael Waltrip Racing $300,000 and docked each of its drivers 50 points, which added Newman back into the Chase field.
On Friday, NASCAR put Jeff Gordon in the Chase as a 13th driver. Gordon had missed the Chase by two points when Logano finished 10th in the series standings. The removal of Bowyer and Vickers in the final laps from the running order – by pitting – and a possible deal in place for Logano to gain track position, led NASCAR Chairman Brian France to insert Gordon as a 13th driver in the Chase due to the “totality of circumstances” that clouded Gordon’s finish.
What happened: Also in the final laps, radio communications between competing teams appear to signal negotiations to help one of the drivers.
Team officials with Penske Racing and driver Joey Logano, and Front Row Motorsports and its driver, David Gilliland, appear to discuss a deal to allow Logano to pass Gilliland for track position. However, there are no radio communications from Logano’s team, only from Gilliland’s.
After the communications from Gilliland’s team end, Logano passes Gilliland .
“Good job, good job, man,” Gilliland’s spotter says on the radio after the race. “Hopefully we’ll get something out of that.”
The impact: NASCAR rules that there is no indication that a bargain was struck, but it said such a bargain would have been off-limits.
Logano ends up finishing in the Top 10 in points, which guarantees a berth in the Chase. However, even if he had lost a point, he would have made the Chase as a wild card. It remains unclear what benefit the deal had other than as insurance for Logano. Drivers said that this kind of negotiating happens every week. At times, it’s about letting the second-place driver take the lead for a lap and earn a bonus point for leading a race. Points collected in each race apply to the overall points race, which eventually determines a driver’s eligibility for the Chase.
Other times, they said, it’s helping a driver get better position, with the understanding that he will return the favor another time.
Saturday, NASCAR officials announced a new set of rules that prohibits teams from negotiating to trade spots on the track.
Compiled by David Perlmutt and Jim Utter