RICHMOND, Va. — Clint Bowyer is the greatest teammate, the most unselfish dude on Planet Earth.
Clint Bowyer is an unethical company suckup, a guy with no moral compass, and a cheat.
Mr. Bowyer's this-or-that image problem put NASCAR squarely in an ethical conundrum the morning after the shenanigans by Bowyer and his crew at Richmond International Raceway.
Connect-the-dots logic suggests that Bowyer spun out on purpose to create a caution to shake things up on pit road, allowing Michael Waltrip Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. to slide into the 12-driver Chase postseason. It was a monumental double-whammy because both Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon got knocked out of the Chase in the waning laps of Saturday night's race. And Joey Logano squeezed into the Chase field.
NASCAR's problem is proving it.
There is significant circumstantial evidence, including in-car video and audio, in which spotter Brett Griffin tells Bowyer that Newman is leading the race with eight laps left and crew chief Brian Pattie offers cryptic comments: "Is your arm starting to hurt? I bet it's getting hot in there. Itch it."
Seconds later, Bowyer starts turning the wheel frantically, prompting Dale Earnhardt Jr. to say: "He just spun right out. That's the craziest thing I ever saw."
Bowyer denied any chicanery, although his rambling statements about what went wrong in the post-race media comments provided more damning circumstantial evidence. "We had a flat tire or something," he said.
Unless you are drinking the Krazy Kool-Aid, this deal was completely deliberate and stalls the positive vibe for the start of the 10-race playoff scrum known as the Chase for the Championship that begins near Chicago this coming weekend.
Some older fans who still have reverence for NASCAR's moonshine roots might celebrate the hijinks orchestrated by the MWR crew, but we are in a different time and a different place. NASCAR is a multi-billion-dollar industry with millionaire drivers beholden to multi-million-dollar sponsors.
The collateral damage is heavy: Gordon — a stand-up four-time Cup champion who battled back gamely from a loose-wheel problem Saturday night to move into 10th position and was about to secure a spot in the Chase — deserves better than this nonsense. The slight shift in the leaderboard after pit stops left Gordon one point short of qualifying.
It also knocked out Newman in a complicated tiebreaker with Truex. It's been a lousy year for Newman, a guy who got booted twice by Stewart-Haas Racing. First they replaced him with Kevin Harvick for the 2014 season under the premise that the organization could not afford to field a four-driver team.
That logic blew up when the team recently signed Kurt Busch as the fourth driver for 2014.
Truex and Logano are not bad guys but are also part of the collateral damage, I suppose. From a star-power perspective, Gordon and Newman trump Truex and Logano.
But the problem, as noted, is proving any of this.
NASCAR issued a statement Sunday saying: "NASCAR is reviewing Saturday night's race at Richmond International Raceway per protocol and has no plans for further statement until that process is complete."
They may as well put Inspector Clouseau on the case. It's comical, but not in a funny ha-ha kind of way. Nothing of significance will happen. NASCAR can't go back and change the race results, nor can it magically wave a wand to allow Newman and Gordon into the Chase. But the drama may not be over, either.
Newman is a free agent with no strong alliances moving forward this season. Gordon and Bowyer have a nasty history from the 2012 Chase run. Newman and Gordon get to tangle with Bowyer and the MWR crew 10 more times this season.
"Good Lord was on my side tonight," Truex said after the race.
Perhaps, although a cynic will insist that the Devil had a role in the proceedings as well.
Bowyer may escape the wrath of NASCAR, but there are others with long memories not bound by legal, letter-of-the-law scenarios. It's never a good thing to upset somebody driving a car that can go close to 200 mph.
NASCAR may not be able to prove any bad intentions if something happens. Then again, Bowyer knows all about that.