It was Clint Bowyer who spun with seven laps left in Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway, but the fortunes of four other drivers turned on a dime with that turn of events.
Yes, Carl Edwards won the race, streaking away after a restart with three laps left and beating Kurt Busch to the finish line by .668 seconds. But Edwards’s second victory of the season, his first at Richmond and the 21st of his career played second fiddle to the radical change of fortune that irrevocably altered the seasons of four of his competitors.
After Bowyer caused the fifth caution with his spin–a conspiracy theorist’s delight–Joey Logano had knocked four-time champion Jeff Gordon out of the top 10 in the standings and out of a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup by one point.
The caution also played into the hands of Martin Truex Jr., Bowyer’s teammate, who claimed the second of two wild-card positions in the Chase in a tiebreaker over Ryan Newman.
Before the caution, third-place finisher Newman had grabbed the race lead from Edwards on Lap 391 and was cruising to a win that would have kept him in the Chase and knocked Truex out. At the same time, Gordon was running seventh and Logano 25th, with Gordon provisionally in the top 10 and Logano out.
A victory for Newman, which would have been his second of the year, would have knocked one-time winner Logano out of the Chase completely, but that all changed with Bowyer’s spin. Newman stopped for four tires and came off pit road in fifth place and could only gain two positions in the final three-lap dash.
Under the caution, Logano took a wave-around that left him one lap down, and the three positions he gained on the subsequent restart were enough to keep Gordon out of the Chase for only the second time since NASCAR’s 10-race playoff debuted in 2004.
After the race, Bowyer scoffed at the idea he helped propel Truex into the Chase by spinning on purpose.
“I think we had something going wrong,” said Bowyer, who led 72 circuits but lost a lap when Jimmie Johnson’s blown tire caused the fourth caution on Lap 343 of 400. “The 88 (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) got up underneath me. I had so much wheel, by the time I got to the gas, he was underneath me. I spun out…
“It’s unfortunate. I know it’s a lot of fun for you guys to write a lot of wacky things. Go ahead, if you want to. Get creative. But don’t look too much into it.”
Comparatively speaking, Earnhardt (13th Saturday), Busch and Greg Biffle (12th) had little trouble clinching three of the five remaining spots in the Chase. But there was other drama that didn’t involve the Chase at all.
Edwards took four new tires to Paul Menard’s two on the final pit stop on Lap 394. Menard came off pit road as the race leader with Edwards second, but Edwards clearly beat Menard to the stripe for the final decisive restart. Edwards lauded NASCAR for making what he considered the correct judgment call.
“What happened on that last restart is Paul had two tires,” Edwards said. “I knew he was going to be at a big disadvantage with grip. He took off. I waited until he went to go. As we were going, his car actually touched my door. I think it surprised him a little bit or something. He turned a little bit. I heard his engine speed up. He spun the tires.
“At that point, I really have a choice to either lift off the throttle and wait for him to try to gather it up–I’ve never seen a guy able to gather it up that quickly when they spin that bad–or go and hope NASCAR understands that he spun his tires. In this case, they did.”