Wednesday, September 22nd
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Clint Bowyer's NASCAR championship chances were crippled Wednesday when his car failed a follow-up inspection and he was penalized 150 points after winning last weekend's first race of the Chase.
NASCAR also fined crew chief Shane Wilson, a native of South Royalton, Vermont, $150,000, and suspended him for the next six Sprint Cup races. Car chief Chad Haney was also suspended six races, and team owner Richard Childress was docked 150 owner points. The team plans to appeal the penalty.
Bowyer was permitted to keep Sunday's victory at New Hampshire -- NASCAR does not typically strip wins and an official said the Richard Childress Racing team probably was punished enough.
"We don't consider taking away the win," NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said. "If you ask some, they would consider a 150-point penalty with only nine races to go in the Chase a pretty hefty penalty."
With Sunday's win in the opening race of the Chase, Bowyer vaulted from 12th to second in the standings. The penalty drops him back to last place, 185 points behind leader Denny Hamlin.
Tony Stewart said Wednesday that Bowyer's not completely done.
"It's possible for sure," Stewart said on SPEED's Race Hub. "The biggest thing is going to be going to the race track and having that stress of not having his crew chief, not having his car chief and those are two key people on a race weekend ... I can promise you that Childress has the resources to cover this ... it's definitely possible, but everyone else is going to have to have trouble."
NASCAR said the No. 33 Chevrolet from Sunday's race had been altered and did not meet its strict specifications. Neither Pemberton or Sprint Cup director John Darby would specifically address the infraction, citing RCR's right to appeal the penalty.
Darby, however, said the issue revolved around how the team had set up the body of the car.
Childress said in a statement that the penalty was handed down because the car was out of tolerance "less than 1/16 of an inch."
"We feel certain that the cause of the car being out of tolerance by sixty thousandths of an inch, less than 1/16 of an inch, happened as a result of the wrecker hitting the rear bumper when it pushed the car into winner's circle," Childress said.
"The rear bumper was also hit on the cool down lap by other drivers congratulating Clint on his victory. That's the only logical way that the left-rear of the car was found to be high at the tech center. We will appeal NASCAR's ruling and take it all the way to the NASCAR commissioner for a final ruling, if need be."
Bowyer's car passed its initial inspection at New Hampshire on Sunday, but was taken by NASCAR back to its North Carolina research and development center for a more thorough examination. It was there that NASCAR found the rear end of the car had been manipulated.
The development came after NASCAR called in RCR officials to warn them that Bowyer's Chase-clinching car from the Sept. 11 race at Richmond had nearly failed inspection because its back end was very close to the mandated limits. Pemberton said that earlier warning played a part in the punishment.
Cup Series director John Darby said members of the RCR organization were present at the R&D center Sept. 14 when NASCAR began the inspection of the Richmond car and saw the numbers that NASCAR found troubling.
"When the initial inspection process from Richmond unveiled itself, they saw numbers that we saw at the same time, which resulted in some meetings last Tuesday [Sept. 14]," Darby said. "Those meetings turned into conversations throughout the week, with a final 'Let's get all of the principals of RCR together along with the principals of NASCAR' and really have a very clear understanding of how we're going to proceed going forward, which happened later in the week.
"All of those conversations were held and in place before we started competition at Loudon."
The Richmond car was a 2010 build that previously had competed at Charlotte, New Hampshire and Bristol.
Pemberton said specifically that NASCAR has had no issues with the RCR cars driven by Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton.
Although the issues on the car at Richmond and the car at New Hampshire were not exactly the same, the infractions were in the same area of the car. Childress said his team had addressed NASCAR's issues before Sunday's race.
"I am confident we fixed the area of concern and the New Hampshire car left the race shop well within the tolerances required by NASCAR," Childress said.
Speaking at an appearance Wednesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame before the penalty was announced, Bowyer said he was aware his car was under scrutiny but pleaded ignorance as to what could be wrong with the Chevrolet.
"Man, I have no idea. I show up on Friday, I bring my helmet, my HANS and I get in the car," Bowyer said. "Anything that happens Sunday to Friday, I don't know. I know we won the race this weekend and it was a lot of fun. We led the most laps and won the race and the guys work hard in the shop to bring fair, fast race cars.
"Aside from that, I don't know what's going on."
NASCAR sets very strict templates that the teams must follow in building their race cars. Although the cars are built to be equal, crew chiefs can and do make alterations in certain parts of the design for strategy and driver preference.
Teams also have historically pushed the limits in an effort to gain a technical edge on the race track. Since NASCAR ramped up its penalties for cheaters over the past several years, there have been fewer examples of blatant infractions.
Instead, teams tend to cross the line now by manipulating setups to improve handling, alter downforce, improve fuel mileage or find additional speed. It's not clear what advantage Bowyer would have gained, or if it factored into his win.
Bowyer led a race-high 177 laps, lost the lead to Tony Stewart, but stretched his final tank of gas 92 laps to win the race when Stewart ran out of fuel right before the final lap. The victory snapped an 88-race winless streak for Bowyer.
"The timing is terrible for this team," Stewart said. "To see these guys race their way into the Chase, go out and have a weekend like they had at Loudon and now have this happen, it makes my weekend at Loudon not look so bad now."
RCR has two other cars in the Chase. Kevin Harvick, who moved up to second in the standings, 45 points behind Hamlin, after Bowyer's penalty, and Jeff Burton, who is ninth in the Chase.
Sporting News Wire Service and media releases contributed to this report.
--- The Associated Press