MORE: Full Chase coverage " Newman in, Truex out of Chase " Official NASCAR statement
Michael Waltrip said Tuesday he was not the mastermind of a conspiracy plan to manipulate Saturday night's race at Richmond International Raceway and get his driver Martin Truex Jr. into the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
"We didn't go into that race with a plan of helping Martin get into the Chase," the team owner said in an interview with the television network FOX Sports 1. "Now, we certainly as things developed understood where we stood, and we knew that we needed that point. But we didn't have this complex plan about how we were going to manipulate the race to get Martin in."
NASCAR, though, saw enough to levy perhaps the most severe penalty in its history, one that as a result removed Truex from the Chase and put Ryan Newman in. Truex had claimed the second and final Wild Card berth in a tiebreaker with Newman on Saturday night, but on Monday NASCAR ruled that Michael Waltrip Racing had manipulated the outcome of the regular-season finale to help him do it.
In response, the sanctioning body docked 50 points each from MWR drivers Brian Vickers, Clint Bowyer, and Truex -- but taking them from the standings before the Chase was seeded, a move that knocked Truex out of the playoff in favor of Newman. The team was fined $300,000, and Ty Norris, MWR's executive vice president and Vickers' spotter, was suspended indefinitely. The team's three crew chiefs were also all placed on probation through the end of the year.
The point deductions do not seriously impact Vickers, a part-time driver this season in the No. 55 car, or Bowyer, who clinched his Chase berth three weeks earlier and remains the eighth seed in the playoff. But it was a suspicious spin by Bowyer that brought out the event's final caution with seven laps remaining, and a surprise pit stop by Vickers on the ensuing restart that helped Truex gain the points needed to overtake Newman.
In an interview earlier Tuesday on ESPN, Bowyer denied looping his No. 15 car intentionally -- although the driver running right behind him at the time, Dale Earnhardt Jr., contended over the radio that he had done just that, and the spin came after radio communication informing Bowyer that Newman was about on his way to winning the race, which would have clinched a Wild Card berth for the Stewart-Haas Racing driver.
"I stand behind my driver," said Waltrip, who is also an employee of FOX television. "NASCAR looked at the situation, they didn't think (Bowyer) spun on purpose. So I have reason to believe that's the case."
After the penalties were levied Monday night, NASCAR President Mike Helton said the sanctioning body had found no indication that Bowyer's spin was intentional. The most damning piece of evidence in NASCAR's eyes, he added, was the radio communication in the final laps between Norris and Vickers -- in which the driver of the No. 55 car seemed surprised at a sudden and unforeseen instruction to pit.
"It was impossible to defend, because we did it," Waltrip said. "But the caution was out, and Ty was looking at the numbers, and it was like, 'Pit, pit, we need that position.'
"We pitted. If I had been standing beside Ty at that moment, I don't know that I would have done it any differently. I'm afraid I wouldn't of. Because we've seen people give up positions all the time in this sport to give a teammate a point. It happens. We've seen the leader pull over so another guy can lead. I would have screwed that one up too ? and we'd have been in the same situation. It never, I don't think, directly affected such an important event. So therefore, I get it. I understand."
But entering Richmond with the intention of using two of his drivers to help a third get into the Chase? In his eyes, that's something else entirely.
"We're not immoral. We're not irresponsible," Waltrip said. "Decisions were made just based on circumstances. And as we look back obviously we would have been smarter and done things differently had we had that option."
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