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Alan Cavanna reports on the latest information concerning NAPA and the future of Martin Truex Jr. at Michael Waltrip Racing .
Bruce: Truex Jr. returns to Richmond 25th in the standings RELATED: Full coverage of "One Night in Richmond" series MORE: #MyChaseNation " Current Chase Grid It's been said that Martin Truex Jr. was simply a victim of circumstances, the one Michael Waltrip Racing driver that seemed free and clear of any wrongdoing. Yet when the dust finally settled in the wake of last year's Richmond scandal, it was Truex Jr. who found himself knocked out of NASCAR's postseason, the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Five teams would eventually be penalized; two drivers would go from missing the Chase to getting a second chance. But few paid the price of Truex Jr., who went from making his second consecutive Chase appearance, and third overall, to finding himself embroiled in a controversy not of his making. MWR's actions led NAPA, primary sponsor for Truex Jr. and the No. 56 team, to eventually withdraw its sponsorship. Without funding, MWR was forced to trim its operation from three full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams to two. And without a team, Truex Jr. was left to look for a ride. That isn't to say others weren't affected when NASCAR penalized MWR for attempting to manipulate the outcome of the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway. Ryan Newman was initially knocked out of a Chase berth and a potential win following Clint Bowyer's spin with seven laps remaining. Jeff Gordon , battling for the one of the final points positions, fell one point shy of cracking the top-10 and earning a spot in the Chase, due in part to the actions of Bowyer, teammate Brian Vickers and what officials eventually determined was yet another act of misconduct, this one involving Penske Racing (now Team Penske) and Front Row Motorsports . And Brian France, chairman and CEO of NASCAR, was left to sort it all out, a puzzle of 43 pieces dropped in he and his executives' collective lap while fans everywhere waited to see what, if anything, would come of the Richmond debacle. What eventually happened was unprecedented. Like Truex, MWR teammates Bowyer and Vickers were docked 50 driver points. Crew chiefs were placed on probation and MWR was fined a record $300,000, a figure NASCAR President Mike Helton at the time called "the most major fine in our history in terms of a dollar amount." But Bowyer, seventh before the Chase re-set, remained title eligible. Vickers, running a split schedule in the team's No. 55 entry, was racing for NASCAR Nationwide Series points with Joe Gibbs Racing , thus earning no Cup points for his efforts. The points penalty took Truex Jr. out of the Chase picture, and put Newman back in. Then, two days before the Chase was scheduled to get underway, officials announced penalties, in the form of probation, against the Penske and Front Row organizations. They also added one more team to the Chase field, expanding it from 12 (10 based on points as well as two wild-card entries) to 13, by reinserting Gordon into the field. "It wasn't one set of circumstances that led us to this decision," France said at the time. "It's a multiple set of circumstances that any one of them could have altered and given (Gordon) a disadvantage." NASCAR also made changes to the spotters' stand, where team members are in constant communication with drivers on the track and crew members in the pits. Beginning with last year's first Chase race, teams were limited to one spotter per team on the stand, and each spotter could have no more than two analog radios, in addition to a scanner and Fan View mobile device. How much of the Richmond fallout still lingers for those caught up in the fallout? Each has moved on, some finding success, while others are still searching for it. With the Sprint Cup Series headed back to Richmond this weekend, once again with Chase berths up for grabs, two of those involved in what took place last year -- Gordon and Joey Logano -- have already secured spots in this year's 10-race playoff. Gordon, a four-time champion, has enjoyed a stellar season, winning three times and heading to Richmond with the points lead. Logano, fourth in points, has also won three times, doubling his career victory total through this year's first 25 races. The others are still in contention, and a win by Newman, Bowyer, Vickers or Truex Jr. would secure a spot in the 16-team field. Various scenarios could put one or more in, or keep them out. It had already been announced that Newman would depart Stewart-Haas Racing at the end of '13. Two days after the Richmond race, he was named to driver for Richard Childress Racing for the '14 season. Although winless since capturing the Brickyard 400 a year ago, Newman has consistently finished among the top 15 this season. Ninth in points, he stands a good chance of advancing into the Chase for what would be the sixth time in his career. MWR regrouped following the loss of NAPA, and continues to carry sponsorship from two other primary partners -- 5-hour Energy and Aaron's. But while Bowyer (12th in points) and Vickers (18th) can still make the Chase, their seasons have been far from exceptional, with only six top-five finishes between the pair. Truex Jr. eventually landed at Furniture Row Racing , one of the few single-car teams in the series but one that made the Chase with driver Kurt Busch in 2013. That likely won't be the case this season, although the "win and you're in" format certainly leaves the door open. Truex Jr. is 25th in the standings, his lowest point heading into Richmond's fall event since he began racing full time in the Sprint Cup Series. He's managed just three top-10s, including one at Richmond earlier this year. A year after the fact, and with the Chase looming, NASCAR officials don't dwell on "what-ifs." "I think we drew a line in the sand last year at Chicago, and have lived up to that in every sense," Helton said. "Once we reacted to Richmond last year, that pretty much settled it from our side. So whatever decisions we made about the Chase or anything else, that issue had been resolved and didn't play a role in that." MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news WATCH: Latest NASCAR video PLAY: NASCAR Fantasy Live FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Last two drivers into postseason field ready to make some noise RELATED: Play Perfect Chase Grid Challenge for chance at $100,000 prize RICHMOND, Va. -- Greg Biffle was a bundle of nerves late Saturday night after the hardest-fought 19th-place finish he's had in his career, but also able to take a deep breath. As the last driver in for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs, he now has a chance to regroup and put himself in position for a long-sought championship in NASCAR's top series. "I am very relieved, but I don't think I'm going to sleep tonight," Biffle said on pit road at Richmond International Raceway . "Man, my nerves are shot. It was truly one of the toughest things I've done." Biffle and Ryan Newman claimed the final two positions in the 16-driver Chase on Saturday night, doing what they needed in the face of difficult handling conditions in the Federated Auto Parts 400. Newman had a slightly easier ride, securing his spot comfortably after a ninth-place effort; Biffle was the first driver two laps down, besting third-place finisher Clint Bowyer by just seven points for the final berth. Biffle's nerve-jangling result wasn't helped by a swing and a miss on the setup for his Roush Fenway Racing No. 16 Ford. Nor was it aided by Bowyer's strong run -- a last-gasp victory for him would have knocked the winless Biffle out. After entering the regular-season finale on a hot streak, Biffle had hoped for his Richmond results to follow suit in his bid for a third straight appearance in the Chase. His car's drivability nearly conspired against him. "The last five races, we scored almost more points than anyone with five top-10s in a row, and were looking really strong," Biffle said. "We felt like we would come here and run top-10 easy, and clearly that wasn't the case. It just caught us off guard and I'll admit it. We felt like we're ready for the Chase. We still do. We're just going to go back and look at what we did wrong and not make that mistake in the Chase." For Newman, his second straight Chase berth came in a much different fashion. In this race last season, he left Richmond unhappy, but was added to the postseason field days later after the Michael Waltrip Racing results-manipulation scandal came to full light. This time around, Newman was all smiles and on the receiving end of a congratulatory slap on the shoulder from team owner Richard Childress. "Yeah, drama avoided me this time," said Newman, in his first year driving for Childress. "... It's a good spot to be after what we've been through the last 365 days. It's something I look forward to, these next 10 races. Everybody ... and the guys in the pits have done a good job of stepping up, but we've got to step up again, again, and then again, and hopefully we're in a good spot at Homestead." Though neither driver was able to challenge race-long dominator Brad Keselowski for the victory, their ability to hold serve with a clutch performance may bode well come Chase time. Biffle's team tested at Chicagoland, site of Round 1, and plans further sessions at Texas and Homestead in search of keeping pace with the top seeds. "It's a really good feeling. We're going to go after this thing," Biffle said. "We've got nothing to lose, so we're in 15th place and about the only place we can go is up." Newman completed the regular season eighth in the Sprint Cup standings, the highest-ranked driver without a victory thus far in 2014. He's never placed better than sixth in the final standings over the course of his 13-year career in NASCAR's top division, but carries high aspirations for a breakthrough Cup title to the opening Chase race at Chicagoland. "We've had good race cars," Newman said. "We've been consistent; I think that'll pay off at points, but just the opportunity to be in this position all over again is a lot of fun. That's what I strive for every year is to be a champion. Winning races is good, but being a champion is what the big picture is all about." MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: NASCAR Chase Grid games WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
Robin Pemberton, NASCAR Vice President of Competition and Racing Development, hints at last year's Richmond incident in drivers' meeting RELATED: Play Perfect Chase Grid Challenge for chance at $100,000 prize NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton issued a brief, but firm warning in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers' meeting Saturday afternoon in light of the scandal that rocked the sport in this race a year ago. "Keep it straight ... please," Pemberton said two hours before the green flag for the Federated Auto Parts 400 (7:30 p.m. ET, ABC). "Do a good job and good luck." The reminder came as the series prepares to set the 16-driver field for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoff field in Saturday night's regular-season finale. Two spots are up for grabs among 19 possible drivers eligible to secure postseason berths, either through their position in points or a clinching victory. Last season, Michael Waltrip Racing incurred historic penalties after it was determined that the team manipulated the results of the 400-lapper to allow Martin Truex Jr. into the Chase. The team was fined $300,000, Truex was removed from playoff contention and each of its three drivers were stripped of 50 points in the championship standings. There will also be a competition caution at Lap 50 of Saturday's race. MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: NASCAR Chase Grid games WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase standings • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
Chase bubble drivers show need for speed RELATED: Play NASCAR Fantasy Live " Sign up for RaceView today SPRINT CUP SERIES FINAL PRACTICE (Results) Carl Edwards topped the final practice session at Richmond International Raceway , running his fastest lap of 121.863 mph in the closing minutes. His 22.156-second lap just beat that of fellow Ford driver Brad Keselowski , who was second on the leaderboard just .004 seconds behind Edwards. Clint Bowyer and Jamie McMurray , two drivers who need a win to guarantee a berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup , topped the practice charts earlier after making mock qualifying runs, but were unable to hold on. Bowyer's fastest lap of 121.737 mph put the No. 15 Toyota in third. McMurray's lap came up just shy of that, .004 seconds off of Bowyer's 22.179-second lap. Jimmie Johnson completed the top five. Ryan Newman and Greg Biffle , both of whom are currently in the Chase based on points, will need strong performances this weekend to have a chance at staying there. Bowyer is the first driver out of the Chase as things currently stand, 23 points back from Biffle, with Kyle Larson one point behind Bowyer. Should a new driver win, they will take one of the two spots based on points. The second practice session didn't bode well for the bubble drivers, with Newman falling from 10th in the earlier session to 11th in the final session, while Larson fell from sixth to ninth. Biffle posted a time one position better, moving up from 11th-fastest to 10th in the final session. Danica Patrick posted a lap of 121.589 mph, putting her seventh on the leaderboard, after a career-best finish last weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway . Brian Vickers was forced to unload a backup car after crashing early during final practice. Today's practice was run under cloudy conditions, with the temperature around 87 degrees. Drivers will be competing under the lights tomorrow at Richmond International Raceway, presenting the challenge of teams needing to predict how the changed conditions will impact their cars. Qualifying for the Federated Auto Parts 400 will be on ESPN2 at 5:40 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET with coverage on ABC. SPRINT CUP SERIES PRACTICE 1 (Results) In preparation for the final race to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup , several drivers on the bubble tried to gain speed, but couldn't beat many of the playoff's top contenders. Kevin Harvick set the pace with a best lap of 129.112 mph on his second go around the track, followed by Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano in second and third with laps of 128.805 mph and 128.712 mph, respectively. Among the drivers that need to make the Chase, Brian Vickers had the best finish with a fourth-fastest run of 128.419 mph. Carl Edwards rounded out the top five, clocking a lap at 128.065 mph. Ryan Newman and Greg Biffle , the two drivers currently in Chase position based on points, finished in 10th and 11th on the leaderboard, respectively. Clint Bowyer , the first driver behind them at 23 points behind Biffle, was 14th-fastest with a speed of 126.033 mph in his No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota. Kyle Larson , one point behind Bowyer in the standings, practiced in the top-10, ending the three-hour session in sixth place with a speed of 127.515 mph. Kasey Kahne , last week's race winner, was the only driver at Hendrick Motorsports to run in the top 10. Dale Earnhardt Jr . was 12th, with Jimmie Johnson right behind him in 13th. Jeff Gordon was 21st-fastest. The Sprint Cup Series is back on track for qualifying at 5:40 p.m. ET. Both will be broadcast on ESPN2. MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news WATCH: Latest NASCAR video PLAY: NASCAR Fantasy Live FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Michael Waltrip talks about racing at Talladega and why he loves the racetrack and the fans.