After what he describes as the "roughest week of his life," Clint Bowyer would like nothing more than to move past the controversial events from Richmond that led to NASCAR's record-breaking fine of Michael Waltrip Racing.
Unfortunately for Bowyer that isn't happening, not with a story that continues to overshadow the beginning of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, which takes the green flag Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway.
"You asked about a line being crossed and obviously [Michael Waltrip Racing] stepped over that line," Bowyer said Thursday at NASCAR's Chase media day at Chicago's Navy Pier. "We got penalized and like I said, I've given this interview on national television. I know all you guys saw it because you all wrote about it and your thoughts.
"We've had a great season and as far as that's concerned, we know where the line is. Like I said, the line was crossed and there was penalties -- the largest penalties we've ever seen in this sport. Certainly, again, one more time, we have found the line."
While Bowyer has taken repeated questions about whether he intentionally spun to bring out a needed caution for his teammate Martin Truex Jr., he still hasn't definitively given an answer.
And as he did during his many interviews Tuesday on ESPN, Bowyer again apologized during media day for his part in manipulating Saturday's outcome. But he did so without directly stating his culpability. (This may be in part because he doesn't want to admit guilt and potentially incur another penalty from NASCAR.)
What doesn't seem in question is Bowyer's standing among his peers.
Kyle Busch said his opinion of Bowyer hasn't changed -- whether that's positive or negative he didn't say. But due to the financial ramifications of not having a car make the Chase, he understands why Michael Waltrip Racing schemed to affect the Richmond finishing order.
"When you look at the organization as a whole, like the 56 (Truex) making the Chase -- you get a bonus from your sponsor, you get a bonus from your manufacturer," Busch said. "Finishing fifth or sixth in points versus 13th or 14th in points you're looking at a $3 to $3.5 million difference. That's a huge, huge financial implications to a team whether it's for the remainder of this year or even for building cars and going into 2014.
"Because as we know, money buys speed and you do anything you can to get yourselves in the Chase. It's not just being a Chase driver or being in the Chase, there's a lot of other implications that are on the docket as well."
A former teammate of his at Richard Childress Racing, Kevin Harvick doesn't hold Bowyer accountable for the events that unfolded Saturday. He used the analogy of a pitcher being ordered by his manager to hit a batter and having little recourse but to follow through with the directive given.
But while fellow drivers can understand the predicament Bowyer found himself in at Richmond, fans don't seem as forgiving.
During the event at Navy Pier, Bowyer was soundly booed when introduced to the crowd. And more than once, members of the audience loudly voiced their support for Jeff Gordon, who was in position to make the Chase with seven laps to go before Bowyer spun to bring out the controversial caution. At one point a fan even shouted "cheater" while Bowyer was being asked a question by the moderator.
It's not farfetched to think Bowyer, once regarded as a fun-loving, blue-collar driver, has transformed into NASCAR's No. 1 villain. Not that it bothers him any.
"Had a rough couple days -- no question about that," Bowyer said. "But I've got that behind me and I'm focused on getting a helmet on and getting the most out of my race car this weekend.
"Yeah, it's unfortunate, but penalties [have] always been a part of this sport. And like I said, for our sport the most important thing is a great Chase fixing to start and it's going to start in a couple days."