Following an extraordinary day in NASCAR history that saw Michael Waltrip Racing draw unprecedented penalties and altered the driver lineup for the Chase for the Cup playoff, one aspect of the drama leaves many unsettled:
Clint Bowyer still could win the Sprint Cup Series championship.
Bowyer, along with teammates Martin Truex Jr. and Brian Vickers, was docked 50 title points as part of NASCAR's penalties Monday in response to the team manipulating the end of Saturday's race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway in order to get Truex into the Chase.
Because Truex barely had made the 12-driver Chase, his points penalty knocked him out of the playoff and enabled Ryan Newman to join the field for the 10-race Chase that starts Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway.
But Bowyer already was safely in the Chase and his penalty did not affect his position. (Vickers was not a Chase candidate.)
NASCAR President Mike Helton told reporters Monday night that the "most clear piece of evidence" against Waltrip Racing was radio chatter between Vickers and his spotter, Ty Norris, in which Norris ordered a confused Vickers to pit near the end of the Richmond race to help Truex improve his position and make the Chase.
But a few laps earlier, Bowyer -- driving the No. 15 Toyota -- spun out on his own just as Newman was leading and about to clinch a Chase berth.
The spin appeared intentionally designed to disrupt Newman's win. Bowyer denied it and NASCAR said it could not prove that Bowyer did it on purpose.
"There's not conclusive evidence that the 15 spin was intentional," Helton said. "There's a lot of [radio] chatter, there's the video that shows a car spinning, but we didn't see anything conclusive that that was intentional."
Some NASCAR writers weren't buying it. Bowyer "needed to suffer a severe penalty, too," wrote Bob Pockrass of SportingNews.com. And Pete Pistone wrote on MotorRacingNetwork.com that "Bowyer should have been penalized enough points to make it mathematically impossible to win this year's championship."
Instead, it's quite possible for Bowyer to win his first title (although five-time champion Jimmie Johnson will have a lot to say about that in this year's Chase).
And Bowyer went on Twitter late Monday hoping to put "Spin-Gate" behind him. "No rearview mirrors in life, just windshield ahead," he tweeted. "It's been a great year and is going to be a great Chase. Time to move on!!!"
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