Penalties to MWR put Ryan Newman in Chase; Truex out

Ryan Newman is in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, and Martin Truex Jr. is out, after NASCAR penalized Michael Waltrip Racing for manipulating the outcome of Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway, NASCAR announced Monday night.

A 50-point penalty to Truex, identical to point penalties levied against MWR teammates Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers and assessed before the seeding for the Chase, demoted Truex to 17th in the Cup standings and out of the final Wild Card position for NASCAR’s 10-race playoff, which starts Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway.

The Chase berth now goes to Newman, who was tied with Truex in the Standings after Richmond but ostensibly had lost the final wild-card spot to Truex on a tiebreaker. That changed with NASCAR’s review of late-race action at RIR.

The Nos. 15, 55 and 56 Toyotas, driven by Bowyer, Vickers and Truex, respectively, were docked 50 owner points each in addition to the penalties to the drivers. NASCAR fined MWR $300,000 and suspended MWR executive vice president and general manager Ty Norris indefinitely.

NASCAR also placed the crew chief of the three cars — Brian Pattie (No. 15), Scott Miller (No. 55) and Chad Johnston (No. 56) – on probation for the remainder of the year.

NASCAR reviewed the late-race circumstances and met with representatives of MWR before deciding on the penalties.

“We invited Michael Waltrip Racing, who accepted that invitation to come to the R&D Center, and sit with us to talk about from their perspective what unfolded at Richmond Saturday night, and from all of that, the conclusion is in front of you,” NASCAR president Mike Helton told reporters Monday night at NASCAR’s R&D Center in Concord, N.C.

“This naturally is a very significant reaction from NASCAR. As multiple-car owners have become a very positive integral part of our sport, also comes with it, though, responsibility from NASCAR as well as the car owners, to maintain a fair and level playing field.”

With Newman leading Saturday night’s race, Bowyer spun off Turn 4 in close proximity to the No. 88 Chevrolet of Dale Earnhardt on Lap 391 of 400. Radio chatter prior to the accident raised serious questions as to whether the spin was intentional.

A Newman win would have knocked Truex out of the Chase, but after pit stops under the caution, Newman was fifth for a restart on Lap 398. He worked his way up to third before the finish but was tied with Truex, who ran seventh, for the final Wild Card spot and was out of the Chase on the tiebreaker–before Monday’s penalties.

Keeping Newman out of Victory Lane wasn’t all that was needed to get Truex into the Chase. Joey Logano had to finish in the top 10 in the standings and Jeff Gordon out of the top 10 to keep Logano from using the Wild Card Truex was seeking.

After the Lap 398 restart, Vickers slowed dramatically, surrendering a position to Logano, among others. Bowyer made an unexplained drive-through down pit road, ensuring Logano would finish ahead of him. Those positions were all that were needed to knock Gordon out of the top 10 and elevate Truex to the second wild card spot.

Helton said the radio communication between Vickers and Norris, in which Norris told Vickers to pit, was the clearest piece of evidence in the investigation.

“The preponderance of things that happened by Michael Waltrip Racing Saturday night, the most clear was the direction that the 55 driver was given and the confusion around it, and then the conversation following that occurrence is the most clear part of that preponderance,” Helton said. “That’s the most clear piece of what we found through looking at all of the detail that led us to make the conclusion.”

Newman, who earlier Monday announced he would drive for Richard Childress Racing next year, commended NASCAR for its action.

“I am proud that NASCAR took a stand with respect to what went on Saturday night at Richmond,” Newman said in a statement released by Stewart-Haas Racing, his current team. “I know it was a tough decision to make.

“With that being said, myself, Matt Borland (crew chief) and this entire No. 39 team are looking forward to competing for the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.”

Later that evening, MWR issued a statement that addressed Vickers’ trip to pit road, after he slowed on the restart, but said nothing about Bowyer’s spin or unmandated drive-through.

“What occurred on the No. 55 radio at the end of Saturday night’s race in Richmond was a split-second decision made by team spotter Ty Norris to bring the No. 55 to pit lane and help a teammate earn a place in the Chase,” Waltrip said. “We regret the decision and its impact. We apologize to NASCAR, our fellow competitors, partners and fans who were disappointed in our actions. We will learn from this and move on. As general manager, Ty Norris has been an integral part of Michael Waltrip Racing since its founding and has my and (co-owner) Rob Kauffman’s full support.”