Jeff Gluck, USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Newman believes Michael Waltrip Racing orchestrated a controversial sequence of events that led to his ouster from NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver said Monday.
Newman was en route to making the 10-race playoff with a victory Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway until Clint Bowyer spun out by himself with seven laps left.
Radio chatter and in-car camera footage later revealed Bowyer may have spun out on purpose. Afterward, Bowyer lost two laps and teammate Brian Vickers mysteriously pitted, helping MWR's Martin Truex Jr. make the Chase instead of Newman (the outcome was decided on a tiebreaker).
Newman initially declined to comment on the possible funny business, but after getting more information said he believed MWR directly manipulated the outcome.
"It's pretty obvious to me the decisions that were made and the communication led up to that," he said. "What happened to me on Saturday night is the toughest thing I've ever gone through in any kind of racing in my 30 years of driving because of the way everything went down. In hindsight, it hurt that much more."
Newman suggested NASCAR's response to the situation would send a message to the garage either way. Officials are said to be reviewing the race after initially telling USA TODAY Sports there was no foul play involved.
"In the end, how NASCAR handles this situation is extremely important for all of us," Newman said. "... We spent 26 races to get to that point, and we missed it by a tie, but we also missed it by what happened. Other people can say that they were in. I mean, it's just so touchy."
Jeff Gordon also missed the Chase when MWR's tactics put Joey Logano into the top 10 and bumped Gordon out. Newman said he was "extremely disappointed" in the sequence of events and said the fallout has been difficult both emotionally and physically.
Gordon has not commented publicly except to tweet: "Was feeling pretty bad about missing the #Chase but after seeing all the details coming out now I feel even worse for @RyanNewman39."
The aftermath of Saturday night's race has left a black cloud hanging over NASCAR during a time normally reserved for discussing which drivers are the championship favorites.
Former driver and current ESPN analyst Ricky Craven appeared emotional during a SportsCenter interview on Monday, saying he was "sickened, honestly, with what appears to be a manipulation by Michael Waltrip Racing to get into the Chase."
"It leaves a bad taste in my mouth," Craven said. "... There's plenty of reason to be suspicious."
Newman suggested the controversy could have been addressed on Saturday night had officials been monitoring Bowyer's channel. And they should have, he said, because drivers were told to play "fair and square" in the pre-race drivers meeting.
"We knew there was potential for this going into this race, so I guess I would have hoped we would have been able to monitor the situation," Newman said. "This is something that's brought up every Richmond drivers meeting. It's like we saw there was a potential for fire but nobody grabbed the extinguisher."
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