Life has certainly been a rollercoaster for Clint Bowyer these past four days. Sunday morning, at the start of The Chase, he was twelfth and last in the rankings. By Sunday evening after a strong drive and careful control of his fuel usage in the number 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet he had won the Sylvania 300 race at Loudon climbing to second in the table just 35 points behind leader Denny Hamlin. And by Wednesday evening he had been stripped of 150 of his points, finding himself back in twelfth place and a full 185 points behind the leader.
After the race the Richard Childress Racing car passed the technical inspection at Loudon but was taken by NASCAR back to its R&D facility for a more thorough inspection. At the circuit they can measure chassis parts to within approximately 1/8 of an inch but back at the facility they can check the car to far tighter tolerances and in a controlled, indoor environment. So that crews can leave race tracks promptly after each meeting the inspections for the winning car and the “random”, in this case the RCR numer 33, are carried out on the following Tuesday with team members present. The car was found to not be within tolerances at this check.
In a statement issued on Wednesday afternoon NASCAR declared that the 33 team had been found to be in violation of Sections 12-1, 12-4-J and 20-3 of the 2010 NASCAR Rule Book. Those violations, in order, are, “actions detrimental to stock car racing”, “any determination by NASCAR officials that the race equipment used in the event does not conform to NASCAR rules” and “car body location specifications in reference to the certified chassis did not meet NASCAR approved specifications”. It is the last violation which refers to the specific problem, that the attachment of the body to the chassis did not comply with the rules.
As a result of these violations NASCAR suspended both the crew chief, Shane Wilson, and the car chief, Chad Haney for the next six Cup Series events, suspended them both from any NASCAR sanctioned event until November 3rd and placed them both on probation until December 31st. In addition Wilson has been fined $150,000.
Driver Clint Bowyer and car owner Richard Childress have both been penalised with the loss of 150 points in the driver and owner points respectively.
Richard Childress Racing subsequently issued a statement firstly apologising to their sponsors, fans and everyone at RCR for the situation arising and emphasising that the team had a long-standing reputation for integrity and took pride that it always worked within the rules. Having been warned that Bowyer’s car examined after the Richmond race was found to be very close to the limit of tolerances they were advised by NASCAR that they intended taking the 33 car raced at Loudon to the NASCAR research and development facility after the race. RCR went on to ask why would they take a car which didn’t meet the tolerances to Loudon knowing it was to be closely examined after the race.
RCR’s statement went on to say, “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 the 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.” They also made it clear they intend to appeal the ruling.
NASCAR’s Robin Pemberton, vice president of competition, when asked if the tow truck pushing the car could have caused such a problem said that they have lots of documentation from cars with body damage over the past four years – since the introduction of this type of car – and don’t feel that incidental contact from a wrecker would push the body out of tolerance at all.
Pemberton was also asked why NASCAR didn’t take away the win from Bowyer. He said they try to be consistent with penalties throughout the year and feel the 150 point deduction with just nine races to go in the Championship was a big enough penalty. For now they are happy to leave the winners placed as they were at the end of the race. So why not deduct the full 195 points Bowyer won at Loudon considering NASCAR are saying he drove an illegal car and yet he still gained 45 points? Again, the reasoning was for one of consistency but Pemberton did allow that it was possible in future penalties may need to rise and could even go higher than the points awarded in the race.
At a pre-arranged event on Wednesday at NASCAR’s Hall of Fame, before NASCAR had issued the penalties, Bowyer had been asked if he was aware that the car was still at the R&D centre and what could possibly be wrong with it. He answered, “Man, I have no idea. I show up on Friday, I bring my helmet, my HANS and I get in the car. Anything that happens Sunday to Friday I don’t know.”
So what chance does Bowyer have of winning the Sprint Cup Championship now? It can be done but overcoming a 185 point deficit with just nine races left is a big ask. Tony Stewart, who came within two laps of winning at Loudon on Sunday, said, “It’s possible for sure, the biggest thing is the stress of not having the crew chief and car chief at the race track, those are the 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.”
Within hours of the announcement the conspiracy theorists on the forums were having a field day but, as one experienced NASCAR reporter pointed out, that sixty thousandths of an inch wasn’t outside the specified criteria, it was outside the tolerance as well.
Clint Bowyer was photographed on Sunday in the winner’s circle holding a huge lobster as part of his prize. As one wag asked, last night, have NASCAR stripped him of that too?