NASCAR took the step of issuing a statement that it was investigating the finish of Saturday night's race at Richmond which saw Ryan Newman lose the lead on pit road after a Clint Bowyer spin.
Investigating the finish of a race is a step that's nothing new for NASCAR. Though issuing a statement about it is. That's probably because since the conclusion of Saturday night's race, the NASCAR world has become convinced that there were shenanigans going on during the final few laps.
Newman was leading when Bowyer spun. A win for Newman would have put him in the Chase, knocking out Bowyer's teammate Martin Truex Jr. After the caution, Newman came out of the pits fifth. He finished third and behind Truex for the final Wild Card. Oh, and to make that possible, Joey Logano gained enough spots to end the first 26 races in the top 10.
This isn't your typical Jimmie Johnson conspiracy theory either. While many black helicopter folks feel that Johnson somehow gets special treatment by Hendrick Motorsports and NASCAR, those are unfounded accusations. This? Well, there are a lot of things fishy with this.
It starts with the radio communication before the spin, and then the spin itself. It spreads over to communication to Brian Vickers, and his subsequent pit stop. And it doesn't stop as both Vickers and Bowyer drove like cautious 85-year-olds over the final few laps, a final few laps that saw Logano pass both of them on the track.
Logano was in the Chase and so was Truex. Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman weren't.
It's not the first time that accusations have been flung about a late race spin at Richmond. In 2011, Paul Menard spun late and his teammate Kevin Harvick won the race. While Harvick got three extra points for the Chase from the win, the spin didn't affect the Chase field. This one is a little different.
But what can NASCAR do? Expecting the sanctioning body to redo the Chase field is unrealistic -- it's not going to happen. But if NASCAR finds that there's wrongdoing, something that while isn't certain, seems likely, there's going to be significant points penalties. While there may be no actual "proof" that Bowyer spun purposely to set off the events of the final laps, the public perception is so strong against what happened that NASCAR may have to take action simply for fan credibility's sake.
And if there are penalties, they should be crippling ones. 50 points for both Bowyer and Truex would be enough to eliminate them from championship contention before the Chase starts, and if NASCAR also wants to bring the boom against MWR, it could really hit where it hurts. Accompany those points penalties with a hefty, hefty fine or prohibition of winnings during the Chase. Or heck, make the financial penalties the only ones. Why? Well, look at what Waltrip said earlier this season.
“Our business model doesn’t work without us making the Chase,” Waltrip told Fox Sports in July. “We invest in our cars and our team and we tell our sponsors that with the way we built our team, we’re going to make the Chase, we’re going to win races.”
MWR has won two races this season. They have two cars in the Chase. But given what happened Saturday night, we're soon going to find out what the costs of seemingly doing whatever it takes to make the playoffs are.