Truex kicked out of Chase as part of NASCAR penalties against MWR (UPDATED)

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NASCAR has dropped the hammer on Michael Waltrip Racing.

The Associated Press’ Jenna Fryer broke the news less than 20 minutes ahead of a scheduled NASCAR release that Martin Truex Jr., driver of MWR’s No. 56 NAPA Toyota, would be taken out of the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup with Ryan Newman, driver of Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet, promoted in.

Fryer explained on Twitter: “The reason Newman gets in is because after 50 point deduction for Truex, he fell below Newman’s point total and Newman was higher for WC.”

Additional penalties doled out include: a $300,000 fine issued to the team, with Truex, Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers all being docked 50 points, and MWR Executive Vice President of Business Development and General Manager Ty Norris suspended indefinitely.

Bowyer intentionally spun to cause a caution with seven laps to go at Richmond. NASCAR took the step to investigate the caution and said it would have no further comment until the investigation was complete.

A NASCAR release will follow at 8 p.m. ET with a press conference in Charlotte scheduled with NASCAR President Mike Helton and Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton to follow.

UPDATE, 8:05 P.M. ET: NASCAR has put out its release in full. It reads:

NASCAR has issued penalties to Michael Waltrip Racing following the sanctioning body’s review of Saturday’s race at Richmond International Raceway.

MWR was found to have violated Section 12-4 (Actions detrimental to stock car racing). As a result, MWR’s three teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (No. 15, 55, 56) have been penalized with the loss of 50 championship driver and 50 championship owner points, respectively.

These point penalties are assessed following the season’s 26th regular season race and not after the seeding for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Therefore, the point total for the No. 56 car driven by Martin Truex Jr. is reduced to 691, putting him in 17th position and eliminating him from the second Wild Card berth for the Chase field. Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 car, now moves up into the Chase as the second Wild Card participant.

NASCAR has also fined the MWR organization $300,000 and indefinitely suspended Ty Norris, MWR Executive Vice President/General Manager and spotter for the No. 55 car, for violating Section 12-4. The three crew chiefs – Brian Pattie (No. 15), Scott Miller (No. 55) and Chad Johnston (No. 56) – have all been placed on NASCAR probation until Dec. 31.

“Based upon our review of Saturday night’s race at Richmond, it is our determination that the MWR organization attempted to manipulate the outcome of the race,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition. “As the sport’s sanctioning body, it is our responsibility to ensure there is a fair and level playing field for all of our competitors and this action today reflects our commitment to that.”

UPDATE, 8:20 p.m. ET: We have a statement from Stewart-Haas Racing, attributed to Tony Stewart: “Obviously, we’re very pleased with #NASCAR’s decision to provide Newman’s rightful place in this year’s Chase. #NASCAR was put in a very difficult position Saturday night at Richmond and we commend the sanctioning body for taking the time to do the necessary due diligence to ensure that the right call was made.” #NASCAR

UPDATE, 8:55 p.m. ET: Michael Waltrip has tweeted, and basically threw Ty Norris under the bus. “This wasn’t a master plan or about a spin. It’s about a split-second decision made by Ty to try to help a teammate. I stand by my people,” Waltrip tweeted. OK, then.

UPDATE, 9:40 p.m. ET: Michael Waltrip Racing has released the following on the situation. But as you’ll notice from co-owner Michael Waltrip’s own statement, nothing is mentioned about Clint Bowyer or his late spin. Instead, the focus is on the No. 55 car’s role. Here it is:

CORNELIUS, N.C. – Michael Waltrip Racing accepts the penalties issued by NASCAR this evening and plans to move forward in the 2013 season.

Michael Waltrip, founder and co-owner of MWR:

“What occurred on the No. 55 radio at the end of Saturday night’s race in Richmond was a split-second decision made by team spotter Ty Norris to bring the No. 55 to pit lane and help a teammate earn a place in the Chase. We regret the decision and its impact. We apologize to NASCAR, our fellow competitors, partners and fans who were disappointed in our actions. We will learn from this and move on. As general manager, Ty Norris has been an integral part of Michael Waltrip Racing since its founding and has my and (co-owner) Rob Kauffman’s full support.”

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.