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Did Penske strike deal to get Logano into Chase?

Thursday - 9/12/2013, 10:38am  ET

NASCAR driver Joey Logano talks with fans and media at a restaurant at a mall in Newington, N.H., Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013. Logano passed David Gilliland during the race Saturday night at Richmond, earning a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. (AP Photo/Foster's Daily Democrat, Ryan McBride)

JENNA FRYER
AP Auto Racing Writer

Tiny Front Row Motorsports asked for a deal from Penske Racing in the closing laps of last weekend's race at Richmond and then helped make sure Penske's Joey Logano made the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship by having one of its drivers back off, according to an Associated Press review of radio communications.

David Gilliland's spotter tells his crew that Logano's team wanted Gilliland's spot on the track "and they said they'd probably be able to help us in the future," according to the review of Front Row's radio communications.

"You tell that spotter up there it better pay big," replies someone believed to be Gilliland crew chief Frank Kerr.

"Yeah, it's not the spotter, it's the whole committee," the spotter says.

"The committee knows what I've been asking for," Kerr says.

"We've got the big dog and all of his cronies," the spotter replies, a possible reference to Roger Penske, who watches NASCAR races from the spotter stand.

Kerr then says: "Travis knows what I've been asking for," an apparent reference to Penske Racing competition director Travis Geisler.

A short time later, Logano passed Gilliland on a restart and finished 22nd -- one spot ahead of Gilliland and good enough for a berth in the Chase field.

"Good job, good job, man," the spotter says. "Hopefully we'll get something out of that."

Trading favors on and off the track is common in NASCAR, but the series is already trying to rebound from the embarrassment of another team manipulating the outcome at Richmond. Earlier this week, NASCAR punished Michael Waltrip Racing and three of its drivers for shenanigans over the final seven laps and took the unprecedented step of pulling one of them, Martin Truex Jr., out of the Chase field.

Truex, who took the news hard, according to good friend Ryan Newman, broke his silence Wednesday in a series of posts on Twitter.

"I drove the hardest race of my life that Night & was unaware of any other circumstances other than needing to finish as high as I could to have a chance," Truex tweeted. "This has been a very difficult situation for everyone involved. I hope we can all move on. I'm looking forward to Chicago."

The Chase begins Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway.

It does so marred by the MWR controversy, and now the suggestion that Front Row hit up deep-pocketed Penske for compensation to get Logano into the 12-driver field while someone else was tanking the race.

A review of Logano's team radio reveals no communications indicating any discussions with Front Row. Logano is told only right before the final restart that he's racing three cars for position, one of which is Gilliland.

Penske and Front Row are both Ford teams and considered partners, and statistics analyzed by AP also show that after Logano passed him, Gilliland's lap times dropped off by almost 1 second from the times he was running prior to the radio exchange.

NASCAR said it was aware of the communications "and is looking into it, but has yet to see anything in full context that requires any action."

Front Row spokesman Jeff Dennison said the team did not heed a Penske request to give Logano track position before the final restart. An email to a Penske spokesman was not immediately answered, but team president Tim Cindric told SiriusXM's NASCAR Radio that "there was no conspiracy, there was no bribe" and that Penske was not involved.

"Roger Penske is not involved in trying to manipulate the outcome of a race or what have you," Cindric said, according to a transcript of the brief interview Wednesday night. "In fact, the first time Roger heard any of this stuff was this afternoon."

All of this happened just before the MWR controversy.

Newman was on his way to a victory that would have given him the final spot in the Chase field when Clint Bowyer spun, bringing out a caution. That set in motion a chain of events that cost Newman the win and the Chase berth. It also cost Jeff Gordon a Chase berth and put Truex and Logano into the final two spots.

Gordon, initially disappointed because he said he felt he could have done more in the closing laps to earn a better finish, said his anger has grown over the last few days as he learned of the MWR manipulation.

"You realize that people all want to do things for their teammates to help them, but you also know there's certain lines that have to be drawn with that," he said at a Wednesday night appearance in North Carolina, adding he'd learned of the Gilliland and Logano situation en route to the event but didn't have all the facts.

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