Throwback Thursday: 2013 Richmond race left long-lasting 'itch' on NASCAR
It's exceedingly rare when a single race winds up changing the course of the sport, but that's exactly what happened at the end of the night at Richmond International Raceway three years ago.
Clint Bowyer was in the closing laps at Richmond in September 2013 when a voice came on his radio, telling him Ryan Newman was going to win.
Shortly thereafter, Brian Pattie, then Bowyer's crew chief at Michael Waltrip Racing, keyed the mic on his radio.
"Is your arm starting to hurt?" Pattie asked. "I bet it's hot in there. Itch it."
Seconds later, Bowyer's car spun, bringing out a caution.
Newman was leading the race and battling Bowyer's MWR teammate Martin Truex Jr. for the final spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. But a slow pit stop cost Newman the lead.
Ryan Newman took the lead late in the Federated Auto Parts 400 and was on the verge of winning the race and advancing to the Chase for the Cup when Clint Bowyer brought out the caution with his premeditated spin.
When the track went green, MWR executive vice president and general manager Ty Norris ordered team driver Brian Vickers to pit, saying "I'll see you after the race, Brian, I owe you a kiss."
Bowyer, meanwhile, made three pit stops after his spin, including one under green.
Carl Edwards went on to win, Truex came home seventh and appeared to sew up the final Chase berth, keeping both Newman and Jeff Gordon out.
"I had no idea," Truex said after the race ended. "I raced my ass off all night long. That's all I can do."
But on the Monday after the race, MWR was found to have violated Section 12-4 (Actions detrimental to stock car racing) by attempting to manipulate the finish of the race. Each of the three MWR team cars was penalized with the loss of 50 driver owner points. Norris was suspended indefinitely and the team was fined a record $300,000.
The penalty removed Truex from the Chase and put Newman back in. NASCAR also allowed Gordon into the playoffs, which for the only time in history featured a 13-driver Chase field.
Truex being excluded from the Chase cost MWR millions of dollars in potential sponsor incentives and prize money, but the integrity of the entire sport was in question and NASCAR needed to act decisively.
"It is our determination that the MWR organization attempted to manipulate the outcome of the race," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition. "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, and this action today reflects our commitment to that."
But the Richmond race had far greater implications.
Michael Waltrip Racing's celebration on making the Chase for the Cup was brief after NASCAR handed down a harsh penalty on the entire team, following the race at RIR.
Long-time MWR sponsor NAPA abruptly pulled its sponsorship of Truex â the one team driver who did nothing questionable at Richmond â less than two weeks after Richmond.
"NAPA believes in fair play and does not condone actions such as those that led to the penalties assessed by NASCAR," NAPA said in a statement.
That resulted in MWR downsizing from three cars to two for 2014 and Truex moving to Furniture Row Racing, where he has enjoyed tremendous success.
And less than two years after the Richmond debacle, MWR co-owner Rob Kauffman announced he was pulling the plug on the team, which shut down entirely at the end of 2015.