Richmond Wrap-Up: Controversial Calls & Wild Card Drama
The annual Chase cut-off race at Richmond International Raceway always comes with drama and excitement, and this year's race was no different.
As the race progressed, the Chase picture was constantly changing. Jeff Gordon was in, then he was out. Ryan Nemwan was in as the Wild Card, then he wasn't. Joey Logano was in, then he was out, then he was back in.
The calculators were certainly working overtime as the stress level was pegged.
After the race, the drama didn't end as many raised questions about the final caution and last restart.
Just as it appeared Newman was on his way to clinching a Wild Card berth by scoring his second win of the year, a spin by Clint Bowyer brought out the caution and changed the entire complexion of the race.
With points as tight as they could be, each position mattered for Wild Card contenders Logano, Gordon, Newman and Truex. By bunching up the field, the final few spots in the Chase were once again up for grabs.
On the final restart with three laps to go, Edwards was able to get by Paul Menard for the lead as the rest of the field jockeyed for position behind.
Making three clean laps, Edwards scored his second win of the season.
Behind him, controversy and frustrations were brewing.
Before Edwards had even completed his signature back-flip, many were questioning his position on the final restart.
Restarting on the outside in the second spot, Edwards appeared to beat leader Paul Menard to the line. NASCAR did not take issue with the final restart, but Menard's crew chief Slugger Labbe certainly did.
"I can understand why he'd be frustrated about that restart," Edwards said, when asked about Labbe's comments.
"At that point, I mean, I really have a choice to either lift off the throttle and wait for him to try to gather it up. I've never seen a guy able to gather it up too quickly when they spin that bad, or go and hope NASCAR understands that he spun the tires. In this case they did."
Edwards said Menard spun the tires after making contact with the No. 99, was on two tires, and NASCAR saw nothing wrong with the restart. Case closed.
Have a look for yourself:
While this controversy was brewing, so was the drama over what caused the final caution.
With Newman in the lead and on his way to victory, Martin Truex Jr.'s Chase hopes were starting to fade. A second win by Newman would be an automatic Chase berth through the Wild Card. If Truex wanted to be in the Chase, Newman could not win.
When the caution came out, Newman's crew was unable to get the job done on pit road and he lost the lead. That ultimately cost him a spot in the Chase, as Truex was able to make it through a tie-breaker.
A bit of in-car audio between Clint Bowyer and his pit crew sent the conspiracy theorist into overtime mode, as many believed he intentionally spun to help his Michael Waltrip Racing teammate.
Bowyer shrugged off the idea of intentionally spinning his car, claiming something was wrong with his car, but that did little to quell the controversy.
"I know it's a lot of fun for you guys to write a lot of whacky things," Bowyer said. "Go ahead if you want to, get creative. But don't look too much into it."
Team owner Michael Waltrip and close friend Blake Shelton did little to help Bowyer's case, however.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was right behind Bowyer at the time of the incident, saying it was the "craziest thing" he had ever seen.
"He was hemming around on the brakes and jerking the car around, and then the thing just spun out. It was crazy," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I don't know what was going on."
The controversy even caught the attention of IndyCar's Tony Kanaan.
I'm amazed how people can think that a driver can spin and guess the outcome of the race.— Tony Kanaan (@TonyKanaan) September 8, 2013
Did Bowyer take one for the team to get Truex into the Chase? FOX Sports' Tom Jensen reported this move may have ties to last year's Phoenix race.
While the caution certainly cost Newman a shot at the win, it also cost Jeff Gordon a spot in the Chase.
Just as it was looking up for Gordon, who overcame a loose wheel to finish eighth, the four-time champion was left out of the Chase for only the second time in his career.
Also missing the Chase was defending series champion Brad Keselowski. The Penske Racing driver dominated much of Saturday night's race, but was caught a lap down when a caution fell during green flag pit stops.
Finishing 17th, Keselowski did not mince words.
"I don't really have any emotions right now," Keselowski said. "We weren't good enough to make it, and we didn't That is the reality."
Kevin Harvick's crew chief Gil Martin did not hold back his opinion on Twitter of Keselowski missing the Chase.
Harvick and Keselowski got battled hard at one point in the race as the No. 2 car faded. The No. 29 was clearly faster, but Keselowski fought tooth and nail to keep the spot, something Martin was none too pleased with.
Each year the final race before the Chase field is set provides excitiment and drama. This year's race did not disappoint. If this is any indication, we're in for a great 10 weeks of racing as 12 drivers battle it out for the championship.