Don’t mess with NASCAR

Published 10:45 pm Saturday, September 25, 2010

By Jeff Findley


Clint Bowyer led 177 of the 300 laps at New Hampshire last week and broke an 88-race winless streak by passing Tony Stewart who ran out of gas with two laps remaining to win the race. With the win, Bowyer jumped from 12th in the standings to second, only 35 points behind leader Denny Hamlin.

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Then NASCAR dropped the hammer on Bowyer. After barely passing the post-race inspection, reportedly for the second week in a row, Bowyer’s car was taken back to NASCAR’s research and development lab and the car was outside the strict variances for rear height.

The variance ended up being sixty-thousandths of an inch. Yep, a pretty minute variance, but minor variances cause big results on a racecar. And, NASCAR doesn’t have much gray area relative to how the car should be built.

I think the precedent set by NASCAR has been painfully clear—don’t mess with the car and if you do, punishment will be swift and fierce. Bowyer was docked 150 driver’s points, owner Richard Childress was docked 150 owner’s points and crew chief Shane Wilson was fined $150,000 and received a six-week suspension. Ouch.

When the dust settled, Bowyer’s time in second place lasted a few days and he now is dead last among chase drivers, 185 points behind Hamlin. The penalty pretty much cost him a realistic chance at the championship.

Of course, the penalties have been appealed and Bowyer and Childress are shouting about their innocence to anyone who will listen. Bumps with other cars and a push from a wrecker caused the rear of the car to be too high, according to Childress. I’m afraid both the appeal and the denials will fall on deaf ears.

Other than Bowyer, no driver in the chase drove his way out of contention for the championship after the first race in the chase. Only 95 points separate Hamlin in first and Carl Edwards in seventh. In a slight turn away from the norm for most chase races, five of the top 10 finishers were the “other guys,” drivers who didn’t qualify for the chase.

There are a few good, experienced racers looking for rides next season. Elliott Sadler, always just on the edge of becoming an elite driver, will leave Richard Petty Motorsports after the season and doesn’t have a firm destination for 2011. Sadler has been very strong driving for Kevin Harvick, Inc. lately in both Nationwide cars and Camping World trucks. To me, there are a lot worse places to be than driving for KHI in those series and I think that is what Sadler will do.

Sponsorship woes seem to have caught Sam Hornish, Jr .with Penske Racing. Unless sponsorship dollars can be found, Hornish very likely could move back to the open-wheel ranks. Again, probably not a bad move on his part.

The series moves to the Monster Mile at Dover this Sunday for the second race in the 10-race chase. Look for Jimmie Johnson to win and move up the standings in his “Drive for Five.”