Clint Bowyer: Mr. Controversy. Part of the Michael Waltrip team's attemps to 'manipulate' the Richmond 400? Or just a good harder racer? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
Clint Bowyer and his 11 fellow stock car racing playoff drivers hit Chicago Thursday, to pump up Sunday's Chicago 400, and as expected his controversial spinout at Richmond Saturday night was the centerpiece for everyone...and most of them didn't like it one bit.
Carl Edwards, who took advantage of Jimmie Johnson's late-summer collapse to take the regular season 'championship,' wasn't happy at having to face so many questions about the various Richmond controversies.
" There are still a lot of things in the air," Edwards insisted. "And I don't personally know where all the lines are.
"What we will see is in the next few weeks is some real clarity, and direction on what is morally acceptable...but also what NASCAR is okay with.
"I hope this doesn't diminish our sport. I hope it isn't a negative.
"I hope it make people interested in the complexities of our sport...that there is a lot more going on here than just guys driving around in a circle."
Richmond? "It is still kind of vague, not clear what exactly happened and what didn't happen," Edwards went on. "I was glad just to win that race, and in a way not be a part of that stuff.
"I definitely don't want to think about that stuff."
Bowyer himself is really the man on the hot seat, with the question 'Did he spin on purpose to get a teammate in the playoffs?'
Bowyer insists no, though he has apologized to Ryan Newman, a curious move perhaps.
Team owner Michael Waltrip was fined $300,000, in a move NASCAR's Mike Helton said was aimed at all three teams....though it's difficult to understand how Helton can penalize Bowyer indirectly in one respect, including that -- meaningless -- 50 point fine and yet not penalize him specifically.
""You asked about a line being crossed, and obviously Michael Waltrip Racing stepped over that line," Bowyer says. "We got penalized.
"The one thing I'm most looking forward to is getting this chase started off right. We've had a great season.
"We know where the line is. The line was crossed, and there were penalties, the largest penalties we've ever seen in this sport.
"Had a rough couple days, no question about that. But I've got that behind me, and I'm focused on getting a helmet on and getting the most out of my race car this weekend.
"For our sport, the most important thing is a great chase fixing to start.
"This is the best shot I've ever had at winning championships.
"The last three weeks we've been up front. I was leading at Bristol, got wiped out by a lapper. I was leading at Atlanta by 10 seconds and the engine blew up. We were leading at Richmond and all hell broke loose.
"This is the first time in my life I've ever had a true, honest opportunity at a championship."
Upon further review....this is NASCAR's new lineup for the Sprint Cup championship chase. Ryan Newman made the new cut...but not Jeff Gordon. And fans aren't happy with the controversies. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
But after Richmond, not everyone in the sport may be happy with that.
Joey Logano, who barely made the playoffs, and with some controversial moves by rivals, including Bowyer, is also not pleased at facing all the questions about Richmond.
Not only is the Waltrip operation in the crosshairs, so is the David Gilliland team, whose spotter Saturday night at Richmond appeared to be making a money-deal with the Penske camp to help Logano get into the playoffs.
Logano Thursday insisted "I knew nothing about it until (Wednesday). We went to New Hampshire to do some chase stuff, and my phone was blowing up. I was like 'What is going on?'
"That is new stuff to me. Obviously there is no transcript on our radio of anything said about it.
"That (deals between teams, via spotters) is stuff that happens week in and week out with spotters. They are communicating back and forth, trying to work deals: 'Hey, help me out here, I will help you out here, let's work together.'
"What I look at is if we didn't pass David Gilliland, we were still 10th in points...so it has no change in the outcome of where we are right now.
"I don't look at it as a big deal at all, to be honest with you."
Still, Logano apparently got three bonus points in the playoff seedings by being in the top-10...and that may have been the result of Waltrip's Brian Vickers and Bowyers actions in the final moments at Richmond.
"Whatever happened there happened," Logano insists. "We are in the chase and here to race. We are going to take those bonus points. We deserve it. We deserve to be in the chase. We won that race, and so we have our bonus points."
For Logano, it is ironic that in this his comeback season after so many years of controversies, he makes the playoffs...and is suddenly in yet another controversy.
"I am used to it at this point. I just go with the flow," Logano says. "It just makes you stronger. They say it is character building....so I am a hell of a character now."
Joey Logano (C) isn't happy with the heat. But what the heck is this latest twist about the Captain, Roger Penske, and a spotters' stand dealing with David Gilliland's guys to make up a few spots? Is NASCAR's integrity taking as big a hit as it appears in its mishandling of the Richmond 400 controversies? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)