Clint Bowyer’s gamble on fuel last weekend in New Hampshire may have paid off and put the Chase driver in Victory Lane on Sunday, but on Wednesday, NASCAR handed down a hefty penalty that sent Bowyer from second in the Chase standings all the way to 12th.
After taking the winning No. 33 Chevrolet was sent back to the NASCAR Research & Development Center in Concord, N.C., officials determined the rear of the car – where the body lined up with the chassis – did not meet the specifications laid out in the NASCAR rule book (car body location specifications in reference to the certified chassis did not meet NASCAR-approved specifications).
As a result, Bowyer has been docked 150 points, team owner Richard Childress lost 150 owner points, crew chief Shane Wilson was hit with a $150,000 fine and suspended for six weeks, while car chief Chad Haney was also suspended for six weeks.
The penalty takes Bowyer from within 35 points of Chase leader Denny Hamlin to now 185 marks out of first and last of the 12 drivers battling for the title.
While surprising, this penalty does not come without warning.
Following final "regular season" race in Richmond, Bowyer and the No. 33 team were warned by NASCAR for being too close to their specifications in post-race inspection at the R&D Center. NASCAR was in constant communication with the team throughout the week about the issue and told RCR the No. 33 would be taken back to the R&D Center again following the race last weekend in Loudon, but obviously NASCAR did not like what they found.
While NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton claimed the issues in Richmond and New Hampshire were not the same, they were in the same area of the car and the infraction found this week was outside of the gray area provided in the rule book.
Following a teleconference in which Pemberton and Sprint Cup Series director John Darby danced around the specifics of what they found wrong with the car, team owner Richard Childress issued his own statement regarding NASCAR’s decision, saying the team would appeal the penalty.
The statement read as follows:
"First of all, I’d like to apologize to our sponsors, our fans and everyone at RCR for the situation that has resulted from this ruling. RCR has a long-standing reputation of integrity on and off the race track. We pride ourselves on working within the rules established by the sanctioning body.
"NASCAR informed us after the Richmond race that we were very close to their maximum tolerances. They also told us they were going to take our New Hampshire car to the NASCAR Technical Center after that race. It doesn’t make any sense at all that we would send a car to New Hampshire that wasn’t within NASCAR’s tolerances. 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.
"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. 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."
NASCAR made it clear it did not find any issue with RCR’s other two cars, those of Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton – who currently sit second and ninth respectively in the Chase. As to Childress’ claim the issue in question resulted in contact from the tow truck or other competitors, NASCAR also denied that to be the case.
“We looked at a lot of different things, and we feel like we have a lot of documentation from cars for the last four years or so, and we understand that we have had cars with some severe body damage and cars without, and we don’t feel that the incidental contact from a push from a wrecker helped push this car out of tolerance at all,” said Pemberton.
Childress plans to appeal this ruling, which will allow crew chief Shane Wilson and car chief Chad Haney will be allowed at the track this weekend in Dover. The points penalty, however, will remain in place.
This story is not over by any means. NASCAR warned the Childress organization they were playing with fire after inspecting their Richmond car and has hit them hard following an impressive showing in the opening race of the Chase. The team has contended they will fight NASCAR on this issue, utilizing every option available to them in the appeals process, but do not expect NASCAR to bend on this issue.
UPDATE: The Rowdy guys talk about the Bowyer penalty.
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