Clint Bowyer continued to insist Tuesday he didn’t spin out on purpose to change the outcome of the race at Richmond International Raceway – a spin that ultimately helped teammate Martin Truex Jr. qualify for the Chase for the Championship at the expense of Ryan Newman.
At the same time, he admitted he called Newman to apologize.
Also, NASCAR issued one of the biggest penalties in the sport’s history, including dropping Truex from the playoffs and moving Newman in, and suspended Michael Waltrip Racing team president from the sport.
At the same time, NASCAR president Mike Helton said there wasn’t definitive proof Bowyer’s spin was intentional.
While the reaction to Monday night’s stunning sanctions seem confusing, the sanctioning body said the penalty was the result of the entire Michael Waltrip Racing organization working together to affect the outcome of the race – and the makeup of the Chase drivers.
The most-critical violation came when team president Ty Norris told driver Brian Vickers to pull onto pit road at the end of the race to help Truex gain an additional point. That came shortly after Bowyer spun when his crew chief, Brian Pattie, made what appeared to be a coded message for his driver to “scratch his arm.”
The spinout shuffled the lineup for the restart and bumped Newman from the race lead – and a spot in the playoffs – to a third-place finish and out of the Chase.
The spin and resulting restart also knocked Jeff Gordon out of the playoffs.
Bowyer told ESPN on Tuesday he didn’t spin on purpose. In fact, he blamed the “itch” on poison oak.
So why apologize to Newman. And why say NASCAR was correct in penalizing MWR?
“I’m happy he’s in the Chase,” Bowyer said of his hunting buddy. “I think it was the right thing to do.
“I felt horrible spinning actually caused him ending up losing the race. I felt bad for him.”
Waltrip said late Monday he wasn’t going to appeal the penalty.
While Newman was relieved to take his rightful place in the playoffs, Jeff Gordon went to Twitter to express his disappointment.
Gordon wrote: “someone explain the ‘ripple effect’ to me?”
Gordon also was upset the driver at the center of the controversy wasn’t affected by the penalty. Bowyer will start the playoffs this Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway with the same number of points as before the sanctions.
“Take me out of this completely,” Gordon tweeted. “At this point all that matters to me is if @NASCAR decides to fix this then fix it completely!
“So wait Clint’s point penalty isn’t [affecting] his Chase starting point? Exactly!
Feel bad for Truex. He got in under controversy and is now out due to it. But the guy who started all of this not effected at all??? Don’t agree!”
Bowyer and Gordon have a tenuous relationship. Gordon crashed into Bowyer at the Phoenix International Raceway last November, a crash that eventually cost Bowyer a chance to win the championship.
He knows Gordon will be on the track during the next 10 races.
“If somebody wants to retaliate, I’m a big boy,” Bowyer said.
Bowyer said he will feel awkward when he gets to Chicagoland this weekend. He knows it will take a lot for his race team to regain confidence and respect.
He also said he won’t change the way he deals with other drivers and fans.
“I don’t think I’ve ever changed; I’m not to change now,” he said. “It’s a tough situation on me. It’s hard on me. I love this sport. I love the fans. I love the people involved with it. I love my teammates. I hate to see MWR look bad in this situation. But it is what it is. You got to from it and go on.
“We’re not in jail. We’re not dead. And hopefully with any luck at all there’ll be a liquor store open when we get out of here today.”