RICHMOND — Two lessons were learned from Saturday's Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway on Saturday about the affect of teammates in setting the 12-driver field for the Chase for the championship: One unsettling, mudding the regular-season finale, and the other inspiring.
Clint Bowyer's spin with seven laps remaining prompted questions about whether he did it intentionally. The upshot of the fortuitous caution is that it helped his Michael Waltrip Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. overcome then-race leader Ryan Newman for a second wild card into the Chase. The yellow flag also helped Joey Logano overtake Jeff Gordon for the 10th automatic spot into the Chase, a must for Truex because Logano had better wild-card credentials.
More uplifting was Kurt Busch debunking history and conventional wisdom in proving that a teammate isn't a necessity to make the Chase. By finishing second to race-winner Carl Edwards at RIR, Busch became the first driver from a single-car team to qualify in the 10-season history of the Chase.
"The way this team has grown, what we've been able to accomplish, it's an amazing feeling," Busch said, referring to single-car Furniture Row, which had not finished higher than 24th in the Cup standings before he came aboard this season. "We achieved something very special tonight."
Busch's feel-good resurrection from one of NASCAR's most disliked drivers to its most unlikely Chase berth should've been the feel-good story of the night. Or Gordon rallying from two laps down because of a loose wheel. Or Newman winning to make the Chase on his way out the door at Stewart-Haas.
Bowyer's spin changed all of that. A bad pit stop got Newman out of the pits fifth for the final three-lap shootout on his way to a third-place finish.
That left Truex, who finished seventh, tied with Newman at 741 points apiece. Truex won on a tie-break, one second-place finish to none for Newman, for the wild-card berth.
Gordon, running sixth when the yellow flew, dropped to eighth with a bad restart for the final three laps. Logano, 25th at the start of the caution, stayed on the track as others pitted, finished 22nd and edged Gordon 751-750 for 10th.
Bowyer, who had qualified for the Chase before Saturday's race at Richmond, said he "had a flat tire or something," and that his car was "getting tighter and tighter and then the 88 (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) got in there and by the time I got back in the gas, he got into me and I had so much wheel in it that it snapped around."
Earnhardt, docked 25 points for an intentional spin in 2004, said, "(Bowyer) just spun right out. That's the craziest thing I ever saw."
ESPN analyst Rusty Wallace was more succinct in his criticism of Bowyer.
"In my opinion, it looked very, very strange," said Wallace, the 1989 Cup champion. "From what we heard, from the in-car radio, the engine sound and all that, it appears he spun the car to help out his teammate.
"I can't verify that, it's just what it looks like to me."
Gordon has been down this road at Richmond before. He had a big lead in the final race before the Chase at RIR in 2011 with 17 laps to go, when Paul Menard, 80 laps down, suddenly spun out. Menard's Richard Childress Racing teammate, Kevin Harvick, benefited from the caution to catch Gordon and win the race.
Gordon called Harvick's win "fishy" at the time. He was more subdued after racing to eighth from 25th in the final 160 laps on Saturday.
"We fought through a lot of things," said Gordon, who started on the pole. "It wasn't pretty, but we were getting it done until that caution came out. And you know, we still could've made it in."
Newman said, "Winning would have changed everything and that late caution hurt us, but we got killed on pit road. We needed a championship contending pit crew and we didn't have that tonight."
The seventh-place finish for Truex, who struggled to stay in the top 15 much of the night, was as high in the running order as he needed to be to squeeze into the Chase. He joins Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Harvick, Edwards, Logano, Greg Biffle, Bowyer, Earnhardt, Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne as the dozen drivers with a shot at winning the 2013 Cup title.
"We just got kind of lucky," Truex said. "Newman was really fast tonight. We tied him.
"Crazy how it went down."
And a bit unsettling.