Ryan Newman will replace Martin Truex Jr. in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship after NASCAR handed down severe penalties to Michael Waltrip Racing on Monday for its actions this past weekend at Richmond International Raceway.
According to NASCAR, MWR was found to have violated Section 12-4 (actions detrimental to stock car racing) of the rule book. MWR's three Sprint Cup teams -- the No. 15 (Clint Bowyer), 56 (Truex) and 55 (Brian Vickers) -- have been penalized each with a loss of 50 championship driver and 50 championship owner points.
The point penalties for the MWR teams are assessed following the 26th and final race of the regular season (the Chase cutoff) at Richmond and not after the seeding for the Chase. The point total for Truex has been reduced to 691, putting him 17th in the standings and eliminating him from the second wild card spot in the 12-driver Chase field. Newman, who is in his final season as driver of the No. 39 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing, moved up to the final wild card participant.
In addition to the points loss, NASCAR fined MWR $300,000 for it rules violation.
NASCAR officials reviewed the closing laps of Saturday's night's 400-lap event at Richmond and determined that the MWR organization "attempted to manipulate the outcome of the race." The sanctioning body examined if Clint Bowyer, the driver of the No. 15 car for MWR, intentionally spun to force a caution with seven laps to go. Newman was leading the race at the time, in hopes of clinching a spot in the Chase.
There had been speculation the past two days that Bowyer purposely spun out to help Truex, his MWR teammate, get a Chase position. Newman ended up finishing third after he gave up the lead due to a slow pit stop during the caution. Newman had lost out on the final wild card due to a points tiebreaker with Martin Truex Jr., who finished eighth.
During a press conference held on Monday night, NASCAR president Mike Helton said there was no conclusive evidence that Bowyer's spin was intentional. However, Helton noted that NASCAR came to the conclusion to issue penalties to MWR based on radio communications between Vickers and his spotter, Ty Norris, just before the final restart with three laps to go. Norris told Vickers to pit in order to give up his running position. It helped Truex get a higher finishing position in the race and therefore give him a Chase berth.
"With the preponderance of things that happened by Michael Waltrip Racing on Saturday night, the most clear was the direction that the 55 driver was given and the confusion around it, and then the conversation following that occurrence is the most clear part of that preponderance," Helton said. "That's the most clear piece of what we found through looking at all of the detail that led us to make the conclusion."
NASCAR has placed Norris on indefinite suspension. Norris also serves as the team's executive vice president and general manager. MWR's three crew chiefs -- Brian Pattie (No. 15), Scott Miller (55) and Chad Johnston (56) -- have all been placed on probation for the remainder of the year.
"Based upon our review of Saturday night's race at Richmond, it is our determination that the MWR organization attempted to manipulate the outcome of the race," NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said. "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."
NASCAR typically reviews any incidents that occur at a racetrack within a day or two following the event. Officials from MWR met with NASCAR at its research and development center in Concord before making its determination to assess penalties.
"We spent the biggest part of today reviewing all of that, including reviewing it with Michael Waltrip Racing, as part of the fact-finding or the due diligence, if you will, to get to the point to where determining if we needed to make a decision or not, and then what that decision would be," Helton said.
MWR said it accepts the penalties issued by NASCAR and plans to move forward in the 2013 season.
"What occurred on the No. 55 radio at the end of Saturday night's race in Richmond was a split-second decision made by team spotter Ty Norris to bring the No. 55 to pit lane and help a teammate earn a place in the Chase," team co-owner Michael Waltrip said in a statement. "We regret the decision and its impact. We apologize to NASCAR, our fellow competitors, partners and fans who were disappointed in our actions. We will learn from this and move on. As general manager, Ty Norris has been an integral part of Michael Waltrip Racing since its founding and has my and (co-owner) Rob Kauffman's full support."
Earlier in the day, Richard Childress Racing announced that Newman has signed with the team to drive the No. 31 car in Sprint Cup, starting next year. Newman will replace Jeff Burton, who said last week that he is leaving RCR at the end of this season.
Newman addressed the Richmond incident during a teleconference following the announcement of his signing with RCR.
"What happened to me on Saturday night is the toughest thing that I've ever gone through in any kind of racing in my 30 years of driving because of the way everything went down and, in hindsight, how it hurt that much more," he said.
Newman's mood changed when he got word that he will be in the 10-race Chase, which begins this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway.
"I am proud that NASCAR took a stand with respect to what went on Saturday night at Richmond," Newman said in a statement released by Stewart-Haas Racing. "I know it was a tough decision to make. With that being said, myself, Matt Borland (crew chief) and this entire No. 39 team are looking forward to competing for the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship."
Newman's one win this season, which came in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, helped him get in the Chase for the fifth time.
"Obviously, we're very pleased with NASCAR's decision to provide Ryan Newman's rightful place in this year's Chase," SHR co-owner Tony Stewart said. "NASCAR was put in a very difficult position Saturday night at Richmond, and we commend the sanctioning body for taking the time to do the necessary due diligence to ensure that the right call was made."