An already topsy-turvy regular season-finale to set the field for NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup took an unexpected twist with seven laps remaining.
On lap 393 of 400 Clint Bowyer initially appeared to innocently spin coming off of Turn 4, bringing out the night's fifth and final caution. The subsequent pit stops jumbled the running order and altered which drivers qualified for the Chase.
But Bowyer's spin many not have been an accident. Evidence suggests he spun himself out intentionally to induce a caution that would aid teammate Martin Truex Jr.'s effort to make the Chase.
In-car audio demonstrates that two laps before his spin Bowyer is informed that "the 39 (Ryan Newman) is going to win the race." This is followed moments later by crew chief Brian Pattie asking Bowyer if his "arm is starting to hurt." Then an unidentified voice says, "I bet it's hot in there. Itch it."
Bowyer would spin in the next corner.
"He just spun right out," said Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was running directly behind Bowyer. "That's the craziest thing I ever saw. He just came right around. We were going into, through (Turns) 3 and 4, and I don't know if they can put up his brakes and his gas.
"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."
At the time of Bowyer's spin Newman was comfortably leading; victory would give him the remaining the second wild card and knock Truex out of the playoffs.
Newman lost his lead after a slow pit stop and finished third behind race-winner Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch. Truex finished seventh and as a result of tiebreaker claimed the second wild card over Newman. The unusual circumstances also affected Jeff Gordon, as he too missed the Chase replaced by Joey Logano.
"They are teammates," Newman said. "I don't know if (Bowyer) looked at the scoring pylon, knew I was leading. It doesn't matter. 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."
Bowyer, who had led 72 laps earlier in the race, dismissed the allegation that he deliberately spun saying there was an issue with his car.
"(Earnhardt) got up underneath of me," Bowyer said. "I had so much wheel by the time I got to the gas he was underneath me, I spun out.
"It's unfortunate. Trust me, I would have much rather been winning the race and been over in Victory Lane than in here bummed out. ... Extremely even more bummed, once you get out you realize there were implications."
But not everyone was buying Bowyer's explanation. A reporter for NASCAR.com tweeted that Michael Waltrip Racing co-owner Michael Waltrip walked up to Truex on pit road following the race and told him, "You've got awesome teammates." Truex responded, "Yes, I know."
Nevertheless, despite mounting evidence saying otherwise, Bowyer maintained no wrongdoing.
"It's unfortunate," Bowyer said. "I know it's a lot of fun for (the media) to write a lot of whacky things. Go ahead if you want to, get creative. But don't look too much into it."