It’s Chase time.
And in the best NASCAR tradition, it started with a touch of controversy.
Well, more than just a touch, NASCAR decided Tuesday. Clint Bowyer’s spin with 10 laps to go in Saturday night’s race at Richmond, to the benefit of teammate Martin Truex Jr., was too much to ignore. NASCAR stripped Truex Jr. of his place in the Sprint Cup “playoffs” and put Ryan Newman in his place.
It almost worked. Bowyer’s spin had brought out the final caution, sending everyone to the pits and changing everything. Race leader Newman had a bad stop and wound up third — if he had won, Truex would have been out of the Chase.
“I think we had something going wrong,” Bowyer said after the race, protesting his innocence in any kind of brother-in-lawing. “We went from a car capable of winning the race, leading, to … just went straight backward.
“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,” he said.
NASCAR looked into it and found enough.
So the 10th edition of the Sprint Cup playoffs is set, beginning this weekend in Chicago. Twelve drivers are eligible for the championship, played out over the final 10 races.
The field includes five-time champion Jimmie Johnson (although not as the top seed, for a change), the inaugural Chase winner Kurt Busch, fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. and 2011 Chase runner-up Carl Edwards.
But not Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart or defending champion Brad Keselowski.
The rundown of the Chasers: