Ryan Newman also feels terrible. Only his sympathy is for Martin Truex Jr., the unwitting participant in a botched race-fixing attempt by Michael Waltrip Racing that has put two friends in an awkward position and spoiled the start of NASCAR's championship race.
"I feel bad for Martin, and I feel he didn't know anything about it and he had the carpet ripped out from underneath him," Newman told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "And I know exactly how that feels."
It's been a roller-coaster for NASCAR since there were seven laps to go in Saturday night's race at Richmond. Newman was on his way to a victory that would have given him the final spot in the 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field. Then Bowyer spun to bring out a caution, setting in motion a chain of events that cost Newman the win and the Chase berth, cost Jeff Gordon a Chase berth and put Truex and Joey Logano in the final two spots.
There were way too many questions about the final moments of the race and NASCAR launched an investigation, determining Monday that MWR had manipulated the outcome of the race and levying unprecedented sanctions that put Newman in the Chase and bumped Truex out. MWR was also fined $300,000, general manager Ty Norris was suspended indefinitely, Bowyer, Truex, and Brian Vickers were docked 50 points each, and their crew chiefs were placed on probation through the end of the year.
Bowyer, previously scheduled to spend the day at ESPN, denied the spin was deliberate. In his first interview, he said he had apologized to Newman in a phone call for bringing out a caution while Newman was leading, but said it was racer protocol for costing Newman a win.
Asked specifically if the apology was an admission of guilt, Bowyer said: "Let's not dig too much into this."
The topic was covered again in a second appearance, and Bowyer denied deliberately spinning.
"No," he said. "Anytime something happens on the race track, it's unfortunate. If I had a crystal ball and could have told you everything lined up just perfectly the way it did, there's no way you could do all that math and know everything that happened."
Bowyer also revealed he had poison oak all over his arm from cutting a tree down last week when asked about his team allegedly talking in code during the race. His crew chief had inquired about his arm right before he spun, at one point saying, "I bet it's hot in there. Itch it."
NASCAR said they could not prove Bowyer's spin was intentional.
Newman said he accepted Bowyer's apology and the two will move on — they have a previously scheduled hunting trip together next week. But while Bowyer discussed the spin in Monday night's phone call, Newman told AP. Bowyer never said it was intentional.
"I could tell by the sound of his voice, I really feel he was genuine with his remorse," Newman said. "He said it was a heat of the moment thing, and he told me the biggest thing was he was glad NASCAR did what they did and took the action they did to get me in the Chase. I believed him and that made me feel good about what he was saying. But, no, he did not say with the exact words that he spun on purpose."
Still, Newman said he has no doubt that MWR manipulated the ending of the race through a series of different actions that only began with the Bowyer spin. NASCAR could only prove one action — radio communication between Norris and Vickers in which a confused Vickers was told to pit as the field went green with three laps to go. The call was an effort to give Joey Logano position on the track to pass Jeff Gordon in the standings and knock Gordon out of the Chase so that Truex could gain the wild card.
Newman had been leading at the time of Bowyer's spin with seven laps to go, and the victory would have given him the wild-card berth. He lost the race and the final spot in the Chase.
"That no doubt was the toughest thing in my career, having the carpet pulled out from underneath me," Newman said. "To have that manipulated, and after the race, I didn't put two-and-two together, I didn't immediately think it was on purpose. Obviously, Clint has a lot of remorse now."
Newman, however, feels awful for good friend Truex, who has not spoken publicly since Saturday's race.
When it was Truex who ended up advancing into the Chase, Newman said he found his friend after the race and told him, "Now go do something with it." Having now swapped places with his buddy because of unprecedented NASCAR sanctions to correct the bizarre race-fixing attempt, Newman said Truex has given him the same advice.
"I know that it's tough for him because of his team situation," Newman said. "I want to go out and do the best I can in the Chase and do the best I can for my team, but at the same time, I'm disappointed my buddy isn't part of it and I'm disappointed at what he's going through right now."