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Blame it on poison oak.
Brian Pattie, crew chief for Michael Waltrip Racing driver Clint Bowyer, said the "itching" comments made over team radio prior to his driver's suspicious spin Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway weren't some kind of code -- they were in reference to a poison oak rash Bowyer had contracted.
MWR confirmed Tuesday that Bowyer was suffering from poison oak over the weekend, and that he had received a steroid shot in the infield care center to help with the discomfort.
Before Bowyer spun with seven laps remaining Saturday night, Pattie asked over the radio if his arm was starting to hurt. "I bet it's getting hot in there. Itch it," the crew chief said. Half a lap later the No. 15 looped around seemingly on its own, igniting a series of events that ended with MWR teammate Martin Truex Jr. securing the final berth to the Chase for the Sprint Cup over Ryan Newman, who was on his way to winning the race and locking up a playoff berth before the final caution flag flew.
NASCAR on Monday charged MWR with manipulating the outcome of the event and hit the organization with perhaps the most severe penalty in the sport's history, which included 50-point deductions to drivers Bowyer, Truex and Brian Vickers implemented before the standings were reseeded for the Chase. As a result, Truex was knocked out of the playoff and Newman was in.
Bowyer has denied spinning his car on purpose to help Truex. Tuesday, Pattie told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that his comments to Bowyer about itching were part of the usual joking around the two do over the radio during the course of a race.
"If anyone listens to our radio week in and week out they know that Clint and I [joke around] quite a bit throughout events. Three and four hours at a time, it kind of gets boring sometimes and we were talking about headworms at Atlanta, we were talking about all kinds of stuff throughout the year," Pattie said.
"My man has poison oak all over his arms, and you ask him about how his arms feeling all of a sudden it's a controversy. It is what it is. It's all good. I guess we'll stop playing around on the radio and be a little more serious, I guess, if that's what the fans want and we'll move on. But it's definitely not what Clint and I anticipated, but we'll get serious for the next 10 weeks."
The 50-point pre-Chase deduction did not impact Bowyer, who still enters the playoff as the eighth seed, 15 points behind leader Matt Kenseth. The Chase begins Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.
"We've been planning for this time and this moment to run for a championship," Pattie said. "? The whole team here at Michael Waltrip Racing is standing behind us, and we're going to get after it."
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