(Video courtesy of NASCAR)
NASCAR is investigating to see if members of Michael Waltrip Racing deliberately spun out at Saturday night's Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Speedway in order to aide a teammate's chances at qualifying for the Chase, the Associated Press reported.
At first, NASCAR president Mike Helton said the scoring tower saw nothing suspicious as Clint Bowyer spun out with seven laps left, bringing about the caution flag. Ryan Newman, who was leading at the time, was in position to claim the final spot of the 12-car Chase field, but Bowyer's spin ultimately allowed his teammate, Martin Truex Jr., to claim the final spot in the field.
“We didn't see anything that indicated anything like that was taking place,” Helton said to the AP “It's natural when everything was as close as it was between who was going to get in and not go in to scratch your heads and try to figure out and wonder why.”
But evidence from in-car audio captured by ESPN suggested that it was indeed a planned spinout.
“Thirty-nine [Newman] is going to win the race,” Bowyer was told by his crew chief, Brian Pattie. “Is your arm starting to hurt? I bet it's hot in there. Itch it,” Pattie said.
That's when Bowyer, who has denied that it was deliberate, spun out.
“We had a flat tire or something. It just snapped around,” Bowyer said. “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,” he later said to the AP.
NASCAR wasn't able to review the ESPN audio until after the race, and it will presumably be vetted appropriately.
Two other questionable late-race pit stops by Bowyer and teammate Brian Vickers suggested even more help for Truex. Both pitted as the race was nearing its end, which improved Joey Logano's position – helping him earn a berth at the Chase – and eliminated Jeff Gordon. With Logano's berth secured, it freed up a wild card spot for Truex as Gordon wasn't eligible for a wild card.
An AP review of the team's radio communication suggested that the pit stops weren't by accident.
The latter incident isn't uncommon in racing, but the spin, supported by the audio, was fairly blatant.