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Edwards wins race, Keselowski misses Chase

9/8/2013

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — NASCAR will have a new champion. 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 in 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, and a tweet

from Bowyer friend Blake Shelton didn't help his cause: "Y'all should

follow @ClintBowyer!!! The definition of team player!!!" the country

music star posted on Twitter.

A despondent Newman wasn't sure if Bowyer's spin was legitimate.

"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 didn't

even know it happened until after the race," Truex said. "I raced my

(butt) off all night long. That's all I can do. I tell my crew chief

what my car is doing, what I need to go faster. That was enough to worry

about. I don't have to worry about any other people out on the

racetrack. I didn't even know that (Bowyer) brought out the caution

until after the race."

Bowyer, who led 72 laps earlier in the

race, denied any wrongdoing and said he simply lost the handling on his

car. He said it was no different than Jimmie Johnson, who hit the wall

earlier in the race to bring out the caution that jumbled the field and

ultimately ruined Keselowski's Chase bid.

"I think we had

something going wrong. We went from a car capable of winning the race,

leading, to ... just went straight backwards," Bowyer said. "My car was

tight as hell, (Johnson) blew a tire and hit the wall. I'm telling you, I

was the next one. I know it's a lot of fun for you guys to write a lot

of whacky things. Go ahead if you want to, get creative. But don't look

too much into it."

Bowyer's explanation seemed suspicious, at

least according to a replay ESPN showed of him immediately after the

race. It was the view from the in-car camera in his Toyota, and included

his team communications.

"Thirty-nine is going to win the race," Bowyer is told about Newman.

"Well, that kind of sucks," Bowyer replied.

"Is your arm starting to hurt?" crew chief Brian Pattie asked. After a pause, Pattie said, "I bet it's hot in there. Itch it."

Bowyer's car then spun.

"We had a flat tire or something," Bowyer said. "It just snapped around."

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was right behind Bowyer when he spun, wasn't so sure.

"He

just spun right out. That's the craziest thing I ever saw," Earnhardt

said. "He just came around. I don't know if they can put up his brakes

and his gas. We got all the technology. But he was hemming around on

the brakes and jerking the car around, and then the thing just spun out.

It was crazy. I don't know what was going on."

The winner wasn't

even immune from controversy, with many believing Edwards jumped the

final restart to get past Paul Menard. But Edwards said Menard spun his

tires, and if he waited for Menard to get moving, both drivers would

have been run over by the field behind them.

"The guy in second

place in that circumstance is in a tough position," Edwards said. "If I

had lifted and waited, I think the whole field would have run over us."

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.

Kurt Busch finished second to make Furniture Row Racing the first single-car organization to make the Chase.

Busch

had been plagued by a slow pit crew all year and it bit him on the

first caution of the race when he led the field down pit road as the

leader. But the Furniture Row crew was almost a second slower than all

the other contenders, and Busch lost five spots, restarting in sixth.

He

scolded over the team radio Furniture Row general manager Joe Garone,

who said to The Associated Press before that the pit crew was under

tremendous pressure Saturday night. It had been the weakest spot of the

team all season, and Busch might have won as many as three races had the

crew performed at a higher level.

"It's a new group, they started

at the beginning of the year and the time that it takes for a crew to

come together and gel and be running with the top five cars in the

series, you don't get there in eight months," Garone said before the

race. "The performance of the car has jumped ahead of the guys. It's not

that they are bad, or we have bad stops. The two learning curves don't

go together, and we are a little behind. If we can have good, clean,

solid stops tonight, we'll leave the rest up to the calls on the pit box

and Kurt behind the wheel."

The pit crew rebounded as the night

went on and Busch, fired two years ago from Penske Racing, was

celebrating his return to elite company.

"Well, how about them

apples? Unbelievable," Busch said. "The way this team has grown, what

we've been able to accomplish, it's an amazing feeling. We achieved

something very special tonight."

Keselowski, who led a race-high

142 laps, at one point seemed to have the race in control even though a

victory wasn't necessarily going to be enough to get him into the Chase.

He had just pitted under green when Johnson hit the wall to bring out a

caution that pinned Keselowski deep in the field, and he never

recovered.

He finished 17th, and at 16th in points and winless on the season, he won't be eligible to race for the Sprint Cup title.

"I

don't really have any emotions right now. We weren't good enough to

make it and we didn't. That is the reality," he said. "We have work to

do. At the end of the day, the thing about points is it is the best

measuring stick in sports. You know who deserves to be where because the

results speak for themselves. We didn't have enough results to get

where we needed to be."

Performance also hurt Newman, who was more

critical of his Stewart-Haas Racing pit crew than he was of Bowyer's

caution. Newman isn't being brought back to SHR next season, and the

team was too slow on pit road for the final stop and that cost him both

the win and his spot in the Chase.

"We should have been able to

come on pit road first and come off first," he said. "If we're a

championship contending team, we need a championship contending pit

crew, and we didn't have that tonight."

And that final caution

ruined Gordon's Chase chances, too. Eighth before the yellow flag and

ahead of Logano in the standings, Newman losing the race flipped

everything and Gordon wound up on the outside looking in even though he

still finished eighth.

"We were getting it done until that caution

came out," Gordon said. "We still could have made it in. That restart

just didn't go the way that we needed it to."