Penske Racing may have cut a deal with Front Row Motorsports in the closing laps at Richmond for track position to help get Joey Logano in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, according to a review of radio communications by The Associated Press.
Logano was trying to claim a spot in the 12-driver Chase field in the seasons final regular-season race. Penske and Front Row are both Ford teams and considered partners, but NASCAR has already been forced to shuffle the field because of a separate race-fixing attempt by Michael Waltrip Racing.
In this case, the AP review found that a spotter for Front Row driver David Gilliland informed the team of a request to let Logano pass him in the final laps of Saturday nights race.
A voice on the radio, believed to be Gilliland crew chief Frank Kerr, tells the spotter to tell Loganos spotter that the track position better pay big.
The committee knows what Ive been asking for, Kerr says.
Weve got the big dog and all his cronies, the spotter replies.
Kerr then says: Travis knows what Ive been asking for, an apparent reference to Penske Racing competition director Travis Geisler.
A short time later, Logano passed Gilliland on a restart and finished 22nd – one spot ahead of Gilliland and good enough for a berth in the Chase field.
Good job, good job, man, the spotter says. Hopefully well get something out of that.
Statistics analyzed by AP also show Gillilands lap times dropped off by almost 1 second from the times he was running prior to the radio exchange.
NASCAR said it was aware of the communications and is looking into it, but has yet to see anything in full context that requires any action. Front Row spokesman Jeff Dennison said the team did not heed a Penske request to give Logano track position before the final restart.
Meanwhile, five-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson denied any wrongdoing the Chase field-deciding race. Johnson defended himself one day after fellow driver Clint Bowyer said his spinout at Richmond was no different than when a Johnson mishap brought out a caution earlier in the race.
I think he was just having a bad day, Johnson said Wednesday. And as things kept piling on, he just tried to suck someone else into the mix with him.
Bowyers spin ended Ryan Newmans bid to win the race and make the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field and instead helped Michael Waltrip Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. land a berth. NASCAR, however, determined that MWR had manipulated the race and replaced Truex with Newman in addition to punishing MWR.
The implication by Bowyer was that Johnson spun intentionally with 55 laps remaining to assist the Chase chances of Jeff Gordon, Johnsons teammate at Hendrick Motorsports.
At Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Kyle Busch was asked what he thought of the scandal.
I say you do whatever youve got to do to get your team in, Busch said of the Chase. If youre in that position, and you have multi-team cars, thats what theyre there for. Some people say Im full of crap and youre not supposed to manipulate the end of the race. Just let it play out as it plays out. Let the best man win.