After the first 26 races in the NASCAR season, 12 drivers are chosen to compete in the “Chase” which basically is NASCAR’s 10 race version of playoffs. The specifics of how those drivers are chosen are a bit tricky but basically it’s the top 10 drivers in points and then two wild cards. My favorite driver, Ryan Newman, was right on the bubble for the last wild card position. Lap by lap the standings would change and he’d move in and out of the chase. With the race winding down, Newman was driving his heart out and had pulled into the lead. A victory would have guaranteed that he beat out Martin Truex, Jr for a spot in the chase. With just a few laps remaining, Truex’s teammate Clint Bowyer was told over the radio that Newman was going to win the race. Then they asked Bowyer, who had poison oak on his hand, how his hand was feeling. “Is your arm starting to hurt? I bet it’s hot in there. Itch it.” At that point, Bowyer spun bringing out a caution. After the pit stops, Newman was no longer in the lead, didn’t win, and Truex got into the Chase on a tie-breaker with Newman.
NASCAR cracked down incredibly hard on Michael Waltrip racing which owns both the Bowyer and Truex cards. Investigations revealed they had also played games to help Joey Logano in his points standings. Truex was kicked out of the chase and Newman was put in.
Getting into the chase based on a penalty isn’t the super strong year fans want for Newman, but it’s great to see justice done and fun to see him in the Chase. This is his last year with Steward Haas racing before he moves to the vacant Jeff Burton ride with Richard Childress in the 2014 season. (I lost a lot of respect for Tony Stewart when he fired Newman to hire hot-headed, whiny Kurt Busch but that’s a topic for another blog post.)