The 150-point penalty NASCAR levied against Clint Bowyer and Richard Childress Racing, if it stands, in all probability has effectively destroyed any hope that Bowyer has of becoming the 2010 Sprint Cup champion.
Bowyer’s crew chief, Shane Wilson, and car chief, Chad Haney, were suspended for six weeks each as well, with Wilson being fined $150,000. This because of the way the team located the body of the car on the chassis of Bowyer’s No. 33 Chevrolet that won Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
The bottom line is that Bowyer went from being second in points, 35 behind Denny Hamlin, to 12th in points, 185 in arrears of the leader. Since the inception of the Chase for the Sprint Cup in 2004, the furthest back an eventual champion has ever come back at this stage of the season was in 2006, when Jimmie Johnson overcame a 139-point deficit to win the title. In the other five editions of the Chase, the eventual champion left New Hampshire in either first or second place in the points.
On top of that, Bowyer loses his two top lieutenants for six weeks, his crew chief and his car chief. And while Richard Childress Racing surely has plenty of depth, Bowyer won’t have the comfort level with different team members that he did with Wilson and Haney. Regardless of who becomes interim crew chief, whether it’s Competition Director Scott Miller, who is a former crew chief, or someone else, it’s still a change that will take time to get used to.
There’s also the bigger picture at RCR: Were the New Hampshire cars of Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton, which were not taken back to the NASCAR R&D Center and torn down as Bowyer’s was, built to the same specs? In other words, were Harvick’s and Burton’s cars illegal, too? And if they were, does RCR suddenly have to rebuild some or all of its fleet with the Chase already in progress?
Team owner Richard Childress issued a statement Wednesday night saying the team would appeal the penalty and blaming the lack of compliance with NASCAR’s specs on a wrecker push Bowyer got after the race when he ran out of fuel.
Regardless of how this plays out, though, even if somehow RCR wins the appeal, the distraction this incident has caused for the entire organization during the Chase can’t be considered a good thing. And once again, the debate will doubtless re-open over whether a driver and team should be allowed to keep a race victory when their car flunks inspection.
Put it all together and it’s a flat-out storm already, and one that surely will intensify in the days and weeks ahead.
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100 and e-mail him at Jensen is the author of “Cheating: The Bad Things Good NASCAR Nextel Cup Racers Do In Pursuit of Speed,” and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows. Jensen is the past President of the National Motorsports Press Association and an NMPA Writer of the Year.