RICHMOND, Va. — NASCAR will have a new champion at the end of the season. For now, it has yet another conspiracy.
Reigning champion Brad Keselowski failed to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship Saturday night when an ill-timed caution ruined his run at Richmond International Raceway. Same thing happened to Ryan Newman, who used a pass on eventual winner Carl Edwards with 10 laps to go to take the lead for what should have been enough to get him into the Chase.
Then Clint Bowyer spun three laps later to bring out a caution that ruined Newman’s race. The benefactor? Martin Truex Jr., Bowyer’s teammate at Michael Waltrip Racing, who struggled the entire race.
Newman and Truex were locked into a race for the second of two wild cards in the 12-driver Chase field, and the race win would give it to Newman. Only he lost the lead on pit road, wound up finishing third, and Truex grabbed the final spot in the Chase.
Conspiracy theorists immediately accused Bowyer of spinning on purpose to help his teammate.
A despondent Newman wasn’t sure.
“They are teammates. I don’t know if he looked at the scoring pylon, knew I was leading, it doesn’t matter,” Newman said. “If that was the case, I’ll find out one way or the other. At the same time we still had the opportunity to make our own destiny and win it on pit road, and we didn’t. That being said, we’re out.”
Truex, who broke his right wrist two weeks ago in a crash at Bristol and has been racing with a cast, said he had no idea who even caused the caution.
“I don’t know. I don’t have any thoughts on it. I raced my (butt) off all night long, that’s all I can do. I didn’t even know (Bowyer) brought out the caution until after the race.”
Kasey Kahne claimed the first wild-card berth, and Joey Logano, Keselowski’s teammate at Penske Racing, qualified for the Chase for the first time in his career, by rounding out the top 10 in points. Logano edged four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon for the final spot in the field.
Edwards darted past Paul Menard on a restart with three laps remaining.
Kurt Busch finished second to make Furniture Row Racing the first single-car organization to make the Chase.
KESELOWSKI WINS ON RESTART: In Richmond, Va., Keselowski passed Brian Scott on a restart with 11 laps to go Friday night and pulled away after another restart with six laps remaining to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Richmond.
Keselowski has five wins and a runner-up finish in his last six Nationwide Series starts.
Scott, seeking his first victory in 134 starts in the series, led the first 239 laps before Keselowski made the outside groove work for him, overtaking Scott after some side-by-side battling on his way to his 25th career victory in the series, and the 19th in a row for a Cup Series regular at Richmond.
Scott’s team protested that Keselowski beat him to the line on the next-to-last restart, then got started too early on the final one, but to no avail, leaving Scott questioning why the rules exist.
“We deserved to win that race,” he said just after climbing from the car as Keselowski celebrated on the track. “Just some restarts and some questionable calls got us there at the end.”
He wound up second, followed by Regan Smith, Kyle Busch and Trevor Bayne.
“Unfortunately our whole night now is defined by the last two restarts,” Scott said.
Keselowski said he thought he caught Scott off-guard.
“The restart box is a zone and we went right at the start of it and didn’t give him a second to catch us,” Keselowski said in Victory Lane.
“That probably wasn’t the key to victory, but it sure didn’t hurt.”
For most of the night, it looked as if 1,000th race in Nationwide history would be Scott’s coming out party. He arrived having led all of 38 laps in 133 prior starts, and seemed on his way to getting that first victory in dominant fashion, including easily pulling away on earlier restarts after cautions.
While leading the first 239 laps, he withstood challenges from Matt Kenseth and Keselowski, each a former Sprint Cup champion, and from Busch, a nine-time winner in the series this year.
Points leader Sam Hornish Jr., who started fifth and never contended in the race, finished sixth and expanded his points lead to 16 over Austin Dillon with eight races remaining.
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