RICHMOND, VA. – It was yet another Denny Hamlin runaway for Joe Gibbs Racing on Saturday night in what turned out to be an anticlimactic end to NASCAR’s regular season.
The fireworks came off the track at Richmond International Raceway, where Ryan Newman angrily chided former boss Tony Stewart after an accident between the two officially ended Newman’s chances to make the playoffs.
The verbal beat down from Newman came with 37 laps left, before Hamlin finished off his third career Sprint Cup win at his home track while giving JGR its third consecutive victory at the track and ninth in the last 15 races.
Newman called Stewart “bipolar,” said the retiring race car driver had anger issues, and all but outright referenced the 2014 incident in which Stewart fatally struck a sprint car driver.
“I guess he thought he was in a sprint car again and didn’t know how to control his anger,” Newman said after the two made contact three times before finally wrecking. Dylan Lupton couldn’t avoid the accident and his car ended up wedged between the wall and on top of Newman’s car when the crashing finally ceased.
The wreckage caused a stoppage of just over 20 minutes and sent Newman’s temperature soaring. Newman’s team was penalized 15 points this week by NASCAR for failing post-race inspection at Darlington, and the punishment made his task of trying to race his way into the Chase extremely difficult.
But few expected him to be so harsh toward Stewart, who employed Newman for five years until Newman was let go from Stewart-Haas Racing at the end of the 2013 season.
“Just disappointing that you have somebody old like that that should be retired the way he drives. It’s just ridiculous,” Newman said. “I don’t think there was any reason other than him just being bipolar and having anger issues. Google Tony Stewart, you’ll see all kinds of things he’s done. Look it up on YouTube, everything else. Quite the guy.”
Stewart is retiring at the end of the season and already had his spot in the Chase secure headed into Richmond.
There were three spots available in the Chase at the start of the night, but Newman was going to need a near-miracle.
He didn’t get it, and the remaining playoff positions in the 16-driver field went to rookie Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon and Jamie McMurray. Chris Buescher also made the Chase by virtue of his win at a rain-shortened race and by maintaining a spot in the top 30 in points.
The rest of the Chase field is made up of the other 12 race winners this season.
JIMMIE’S LONG NIGHT: Six-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson didn’t appear to be Chase ready in the final tuneup. He had a tire go down, hit the wall, and his crew had an uncontrolled tire on pit road during Johnson’s 11th-place finish. Although he has two wins this year, he’s at career lows in nearly every category, including laps led.
BUSTED BLANEY: It was a short night for Ryan Blaney, who guessed stubbornness was to blame for an accident just 11 laps into the race. Blaney made contact with Trevor Bayne that caused a flat tire and sent Blaney into the wall. He was baffled because he thought he was clear of Bayne, but figured Bayne thought otherwise and neither driver would yield.
“I should know better than that,” Blaney said. “We didn’t even give ourselves a shot at it, that is something I will have regret about.”
UP NEXT: The opening race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship on Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway. The field starts with 16 drivers, which will be whittled down over nine rounds to create a final four to race for the title Nov. 20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.