RICHMOND, VA. – NASCAR will have a new champion. For now, it has yet another conspiracy.
Reigning series champion Brad Keselowski wound up 16th in points and out of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship Saturday night when an ill-timed caution ruined his run at Richmond International Raceway, after he led for 142 laps.
Same thing happened to Ryan Newman, who used a pass on eventual winner Carl Edwards with 10 laps to go to take the lead for what should have been enough to get in the Chase.
Then Clint Bowyer spun three laps later, bringing out a caution that ruined Newman’s race. The benefactor? Martin Truex Jr., Bowyer’s teammate at Michael Waltrip Racing, who struggled the entire race.
Newman and Truex were locked into a race for the second of two wild cards in the 12-driver Chase field, and the race win would give it to Newman. Only he lost the lead on pit road, wound up finishing third, and Truex grabbed the final spot in the Chase.
Kurt Busch placed second, making Furniture Row Racing the first single-car organization to make the Chase.
Conspiracy theorists immediately accused Bowyer of spinning on purpose. A despondent Newman wasn’t sure if Bowyer’s spin was legitimate.
“They are teammates. I don’t know if he looked at the scoring pylon, knew I was leading, it doesn’t matter,” Newman said. “If that was the case, I’ll find out one way or the other. At the same time we still had the opportunity to make our own destiny and win it on pit road, and we didn’t.”
Truex, who broke his right wrist two weeks ago in a crash at Bristol and has been racing with a cast, said he had no idea who even caused the caution.
“I tell my crew chief what my car is doing, what I need to go faster,” Truex said. “That was enough to worry about. I don’t have to worry about any other people out on the racetrack.”
Bowyer, who led 72 laps, denied any wrongdoing and said he simply lost the handling on his car.
“We went from a car capable of winning the race, leading, to ... just went straight backwards,” Bowyer said. “My car was tight as hell, [Jimmie Johnson] blew a tire and hit the wall. I’m telling you, I was the next one. I know it’s a lot of fun for you guys to write a lot of wacky things. Go ahead if you want to, get creative. But don’t look too much into it.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was right behind Bowyer when he spun, wasn’t so sure.
“He just spun right out. That’s the craziest thing I ever saw,” Earnhardt said.
Kasey Kahne claimed the first wild-card berth, and Joey Logano, Keselowski’s teammate at Penske Racing, qualified for the Chase for the first time, by rounding out the top 10 in points. Logano edged four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon for the final spot.