NASCAR on Monday night levied a massive penalty against Michael Waltrip Racing that included removing MWR driver Martin Truex Jr. from the Chase for the Cup title playoff and replacing him with Ryan Newman.
MWR “attempted to manipulate the outcome of the race” Saturday night at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway that decided which 12 drivers would qualify for the Chase, NASCAR concluded.
The 10-race Chase starts Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.
MWR also was fined $300,000 and Ty Norris, the organization’s executive vice president and general manager, was suspended indefinitely.
“As the sport’s sanctioning body, it is our responsibility to ensure there is a fair and level playing field for all of our competitors,” Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president of competition, said in a statement.
Newman, who drives for Stewart-Haas Racing, was leading the Richmond race with seven laps remaining and a victory would have given him the final berth in the Chase.
But then Clint Bowyer spun out by himself, bringing out a caution period that shuffled Newman back in the field and enabled Truex to claim the final Chase position. Radio chatter and in-car camera footage indicated Bowyer might have spun on purpose to help his teammate.
Late pit stops by Bowyer and Brian Vickers also apeared to help Truex qualify for the final Chase spot.
[Update, 6:57 p.m: NASCAR President Mike Helton later told reporters there was “not conclusive evidence” that Bowyer’s spin was intentional. However, he said Vickers’ late pit stop at the urging of team spotter Ty Norris to help Truex “was the most clear piece” of evidence against the team. And MWR issued a statement admitting Norris made the move, which the team said “we regret.” MWR also said it would not appeal the penalties.]
“I am proud that NASCAR took a stand with respect to what went on Saturday night,” Newman said in a statement.
Earlier in the day, Newman announced that next year he will join Richard Childress Racing and drive the No. 31 car now driven by Jeff Burton.