The Frontstretch: By Letting Illegal Cars Win and Taking Legal Points, NASCAR Dropped Ball On Bowyer by Amy Henderson -- Thursday September 23, 2010

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By Letting Illegal Cars Win and Taking Legal Points, NASCAR Dropped Ball On Bowyer

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Thursday September 23, 2010


Clint Bowyer’s win on Sunday at Loudon was one of NASCAR’s feel good stories in a season that has been largely unremarkable. Bowyer, the last driver to lock up a Chase berth with a torrid run at Richmond, dominated in New Hampshire, taking the checkers ahead of Denny Hamlin after Tony Stewart ran out of gas. But don’t be fooled by the fuel mileage angle; Bowyer had the best car all day long. He deserved to be in Victory Lane.

Until Wednesday.

Bowyer’s car was taken for further technical inspection at NASCAR’s R&D center, as has become customary for the winner’s car. A week prior, Bowyer’s team had been warned that its Richmond Chevy was dangerously close to being outside NASCAR’s tolerances on some measurements. It was legal, but by less than a hairbreadth. The team was admonished not to do it again in a series of face-to-face meetings, conversations that culminated long before the haulers came to Loudon and parked.

A few days later, it appeared that Bowyer’s car had sailed through Sunday’s postrace inspection, as the car was loaded up and taken to NASCAR’s high-tech R&D center just to verify its legality. It failed teardown.

NASCAR reacted the way it has in recent years, with a six-race suspension for crew chief Shane Wilson (the win was Wilson’s first as a crew chief) and car chief Chad Haney, a $150,000 fine for both Wilson and owner Richard Childress, and a fine of 150 points for Childress and Bowyer.

The fine isn’t cheap, but the points will cost this team the most: Bowyer dropped from second, just 35 markers off Denny Hamlin’s lead, all the way to the bottom of the Chase barrel, 185 back – a hole almost certainly too deep to dig out of. Just like that, his Cinderella story of pulling a surprise Chase upset from the 12th seed is dead.

Pressed for comment through a teleconference Wednesday, NASCAR’s 25 minutes worth of political jargon centered around what they termed a definitive case: their penalty was just.

I don’t think so. Once again, NASCAR fails to see reality.

Clint Bowyer may have been docked 150 points for an illegal car at New Hampshire, but when the smoke clears he’ll still get credit for the win.

The sanctioning body made a couple of big mistakes here. First, Bowyer was allowed to retain the win and did not lose all of the points he earned. Should Hamlin, officially second but the first driver to take the checkers in a legal car, lose the title by less than those 45 points that Bowyer was allowed to retain, he ought to be livid. Not to mention, the win will be recorded in NASCAR history as if the car was legal — no asterisk, no footnote. As a result, Bowyer also landed a spot in the 2011 All-Star race.

NASCAR says that they allow a driver who won in an illegal car to keep the victory because they want fans at the track to know definitively who won before they go home. That’s kind of an insult to race fans’ intelligence, in my opinion. I think most fans would rather see a legal car win, even if that means an altered result later — certainly, race fans are intelligent enough to understand why it happened, even if they wouldn’t be happy they witnessed it. If I were in the stands, I certainly wouldn’t feel cheated if I paid to see a race and the winner was changed a few days later – as long as the reason was made clear. But from a fan’s perspective, I would feel cheated every time the win goes to a driver in an illegal car.

The sanctioning body has said that there is no precedent for stripping a win, but that’s a falsehood, as any old-timer will tell you. In the very first sanctioned race in what is now the Cup Series, the first car to cross the finish line was driven by Glenn Dunnaway. But Dunnaway’s car failed inspection because the rear springs had been altered outside NASCAR’s rules, so Big Bill France did what he felt was the only thing to do – he gave the race win with its points and purse to Jim Roper, driver of the first legal car to take the checkered flag. Dunnaway’s car owner sued, and a judge threw his case out. NASCAR’s rule was law, a strong precedent that initially held up in almost any circumstance.

But then came the growth – and the money – of the modern era, meaning now NASCAR won’t do the only right thing anymore. Do we really live in a society with such a sense of entitlement that winning at all costs is okay? Handing a team the same (or worse — it’s been done!) penalty for winning a race in an illegal car as they would have gotten if it had never set a wheel on the track isn’t right. Pushing the limits to see if you can get away with it is part of the game, and if you get caught, you fix it and present a legal car, probably incurring some hefty fines and point penalties. But if you alter it, then race it, then NASCAR should take that finishing position and give it to someone who deserves it. Or at least that’s how it should be. Until then, nothing is going to deter teams from “creative engineering.”

On the other hand, NASCAR is proposing tougher future crackdowns for similar situations. The sanctioning body hinted that they will dock 200 or more points next time — in essence, all of the points from an illegal win and then some.

That’s wrong, too.

First of all, the win would still stand. Strike one. Second, now you’re talking docking points that were earned legally. That’s just even more wrong. Strike two. Third, the win goes in the record books as if the car was legal and slightly cheapens the legal wins. Strike three, you’re out.

Just grow a pair and take the win. Seriously.

The other mistake here was NASCAR’s handling of Bowyer’s Richmond car, which was barely within the tolerance set for the area of the chassis. The team was warned, and that should have been the end of it. That the “story” was released at all was ridiculous. It’s not a story. The same thing happened a year ago with a pair of Hendrick Motorsports cars, which were legal by less than the thickness of a piece of paper. Those two cars were “randomly” inspected after every race for the remainder of the year and found legal. There never was a story, and all releasing the so-called news did was fuel the wrong kind of media and fan attention, something the sport can ill afford to begin with.

Granted, this time is a little different because not only was Bowyer’s car found outside of tolerance the very next week, but it was outside of tolerance in the same area that the team had been warned about the previous week. That does look a little incriminating for the team, makes it a little harder to buy the excuse they gave: That the track wrecker damaged the car pushing it to Victory Lane or it was the congratulatory rubs from the other cars. Often something does break, or get bent in competition, and that can cause a funky measurement. But usually, NASCAR allows for that if the team can prove it. Last week’s story actually gives credence to NASCAR’s assertion that the No. 33 was altered before the race. But the sport still shouldn’t have been releasing that type of information, as it leads to unnecessary speculation and bias. I repeat: it is not even a story!

Clint Bowyer’s team apparently made a mistake at Loudon, pushing the limits too far, and for that, they deserve a penalty. However, NASCAR, as is all too typical these days, completely mishandled the situation, failing to properly punish Bowyer and his team by stripping the win, and with it all of the championship points and the All-Star berth that comes with the territory.

NASCAR then compounded their mistake in typical NASCAR fashion — by overreacting and promising a completely unfair point fine to the next offender. And then they capped it off by releasing a non-story, raising suspicion and perhaps unfairly biasing the media and fans against Bowyer’s team. Face it, if that had never come to light, it would be easier to sympathize with Bowyer. Perhaps the team was playing with fire and pushing the limits, but when the car is legal there is zero purpose in spreading the word in such a way as to imply that it wasn’t, and if it wasn’t, Bowyer should have been stripped of the points after Richmond, which would have given his Chase spot to a presumably legal Ryan Newman. No matter what, officials didn’t handle this particular situation with discretion.

The sanctioning body of a sport owes it to the paying fans to be fair and correct in their rulings, and NASCAR has failed the fans in that respect. That’s no way to treat the participants and it’s no way to treat the fans, as the sport needs to make necessary changes – not frivolous ones. The record books should be filled with legal wins (or at least those where NASCAR never found fault), and the fans should go home knowing that NASCAR will do the right thing, even if that means they see a different winner in the morning. It’s time to fix what’s wrong and stop trying to fix what isn’t.

That is how NASCAR can stop the bleeding.

Contact Amy Henderson

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09/23/2010 06:22 AM

Totally agree – NASCAR should have taken the win from him.

Stephen HOOD
09/23/2010 07:17 AM

I agree that the win, points, and money should have been stripped. I don’t understand the rest of your post. NASCAR mishandles rumor, speculation, and media hype? In the days of unnamed sources, rumors reported as fact, and stories rushed to the net before they’ve been fact checked, most organizations look foolish when a controversy erupts. I think it is almost impossible to control a story in todays media environment. Did NASCAR mishandle the situation, or has the media frenzy shaped the perception of the outcome?

09/23/2010 08:26 AM

If they were clearly cheating, then they should be hammered. I just don’t know if the case against Bowyer is all that cut and dried. NASCAR has earned my distrust over the past few seasons.

09/23/2010 08:43 AM

There are a couple of problems with your story, Amy. First of all, NA$CAR only had the RCR guys at the R&D center this Tuesday (2 days ago). NA$CAR said that traveling conflict prevented them from admonishing the team before the Loudon race. They did tell them that it was barely legal before the Loudon race, but the team did NOT get to see the area in question before going to Loudon. Now I have to wonder what kind of traveling concerns kept the RCR teams from being able to travel to the R&D center only a few miles from their shop. The second problem that I have with your article is over the points penalty. I would agree with you that a car (any car) that fails post-race inspection should be DQ’ed. All money and points should be lost. But I say that a second infraction during a set probationary period should cost 2 races worth of points. A third violation (during the probationary period) should net every member of the team driver, crew chief, car chief, and pit crew a 5 race suspension. Only by having sanctions that would severely punish chronic offenders will NA$CAR actually gain credibility. Then if an act of Congress or God (probably BOTH) could make NA$CAR enforce it’s rules uniformly, instead of arbitrarily; they might get some respect from the fans.

Kevin from PA
09/23/2010 09:00 AM

Just shows how NASCAR views racings these days: Races and wins mean nothing; Championships and Points are everything.

So keep your worthless win and stupid trophy, Bowyer. However we will take your valuable points – which will prevent you from being our beloved 2010 Champion.

09/23/2010 09:12 AM

WTF? Is this the Help the Drive for 5 Survive rule?

Did the car not pass Pre-Inspection? If all Chase cars are not pre-inspected then NA$CAR is a bigger joke than I thought.

At Richmond the car passed PERIOD. It was not over spec but just a bit under.

Well legal is legal, if a car passed then STFU. What purpose does that serve?

Now this car that was what? Sixty thousandths of an inch off in the rear after the race? A car which was shoved from behind by a Tow Truck, bumped multiple times by other cars?

An aerodynamic difference that would matter not one bit at a track like NHMS.

I am no Boyer fan, I am a fan of racing. Racing that is on the up and up. This is just WWE style crap.

Robert Isaacs
09/23/2010 09:42 AM

RC is going to appeal the ruling and he should. Did you see how far it was off? Did you see that he did get pushed around after the race. Could that have altered the rear 6/1000. You bet it could. Don’t jump to conclusions. I hope Clint gets to keep points and the win.


09/23/2010 09:54 AM


Bill B
09/23/2010 10:16 AM

Please everyone stop saying it was only 1/16 of an inch. What if they made the rule the current measurement and added 1/16 to it, then next week someone is 1/16 over that? The line needs to be drawn somewhere and the rule must be enforced at that line. My feeling is he was probably over at Richmond but the warned him instead of penalized him (much like the 5 and 48 were warned during last year’s chase).
I would really like to hear how people want the rules enforced so….
If the rule is 36 inches and someone is higher when should they be penalized…1/32, 1/16, 1/8, 1/4?
To those of you that are whining “it’s not fair” I’d like to know how much over the limit is fair? What if we then make that the limit, then should we give additional leeway? Remember people, the teams chose to push it right to the edge. If you don’t want to take a chance then set it up 1/8 of an inch BELOW the limit.

09/23/2010 10:18 AM

This is the kind of stupidness that is driving away the fans. Really….do you think a car being out of spec by the thickness of a piece of paper is gonna make a win? I think not. Nascar is losing credibility real fast.

Bill B
09/23/2010 10:19 AM

Jimmie and Jeff don’t build their cars either, so I hope you voiced the same opinion when they lost points for similar violations (in past years).

09/23/2010 10:21 AM

Does anyone believe the Hendrick car last year was legal?

Doug In Washington (State)
09/23/2010 10:48 AM

It passed the pre-race and post-race inspections because they aren’t as accurate as a teardown. NASCAR doesn’t do teardown inspections BEFORE a race, I don’t think anyone does.

While being 6/1000ths out of tolerance may seem small, remember than there is a specification, and each spec then has its “tolerance”. While I don’t know the spec used here, an example is say you are given a “height” of some component that must be 6.5”. Reality is, you are never going to get exactly 6.5000”, so there’s a tolerance, say, 0.5”, so the allowed measurement is between 6.000” and 7.000”. If there’s an advantage for being taller, some guys will push that, and instead of building it at 6.5” they build it at 6.90”. Still “within tolerance”. It still passes at 6.990”. But you’re getting real close to having one little wrinkle put you out of tolerance, whereas if you built it to the “spec” 6.5” you’s have half an inch of wiggle room. At 6.990” you only have .01” before your out. Hit 7.001”, you’re out of spec and illegal.

It’s easy to avoid- don’t push the limit, stick to the spec. When we race 2.5L boat engines, and 2725cc is the max allowed displacement, you don’t build a 2725cc engine. You build a 2600cc engine so that you don’t wear out of spec.

09/23/2010 10:53 AM

If football can take the Heisman trophy away because the guy who won it broke the rules, there is no reason NASCAR can’t take a win away for breaking the rules. In fact, they should take the win away, forget the points loss and the fines. move everyone up one place in the standings and be done with it. Then disqualify the team for the following race and don’t allow the driver to race in the all star race.

Actually, I think that all of the cars in the chase should be taken by NASCAR after the race and torn down. Would be interesting to see who else was testing the tolerance limits.
The way things are now, NASCAR really looks like the WWF more every week.

09/23/2010 10:59 AM

Not taking away a win is just a relic of the old days of Nascar .I know there was more to it than just worrying that the fans wouldn’t be sure who won as they were headed home . Bill Sr. was a very crafty old guy .
No sane person ever believes any Hendrick car is legal . How many times has that bunch been caught with illegal cars and parts ?
As for suspending people on a team , i think that idea needs to go away . Suspend the driver , okay . Suspend the crew chief , okay . Suspend the owner , i don’t see how since most have more than one car in the races . Suspend the crew members , never . What on earth would the catch can man or the front tire changer have to do with what the engine or body guys did illegally ?

09/23/2010 11:23 AM

Can’t believe how this issue is being reported here.
First off the car passed PRE RACE inspections

A car’s setup is going to change throughout the period of race from racing…period.

1/16th of an inch the ride height was off…that obviously happened throughout the run on Sunday. OR IT WOULD HAVE BEEN FLAGGED PRE RACE

The penalties and media both need a boot.

This is rediculous. They didn’t do a thing wrong.

Check the other 42 cars and your going to find similar issues post race. They just didn’t win. I smell sh_T

Michael in SoCal
09/23/2010 11:29 AM

If the car passed pre-race inpsection, and it can be showed that the car was bumped at any point in the race or post-race (which it was), then that is enough for me to believe the failure of post-race inspection was the contact. Again, this is assuming it passed pre-race inspection, which I would think it did, since it was allowed to race.

09/23/2010 11:35 AM

If only there was no Chase, Bowyer would go from 12th to 13th. OOhhhhhh.

If Johnson or any Hendrick car bumps the wall and wins the race and his car doesn’t measure within specs, does anyone think he would be penalized?

09/23/2010 11:36 AM

NASCAR just had TV ratings show the biggest drop-off in viewership for the first race of the Chase. Next day – huge controversy over illegal car by a sheet of paper. What an amazing coincidence!! I have absolutely no faith in the integrity of sanctioning officials at this point in time. Just one more reason to shut the tv off and find a better way to spend my time.

09/23/2010 11:56 AM

I agree with 29racefan—-cooked up story, trying to make some noise. I really don’t believe a word from anyone involved anymore (teams, Na$car or media).

09/23/2010 12:10 PM

Its not the penalty that people are upset with, its the consistency with which these penalties are assessed and who they are assessed to.

the 48 and 5 car last year went through the same thing. Where was their penalty? Instead the 48 wins the championship. And why after being warned by Nascar would Childress be stupid enough to bring a car to the track that doesn’t meet specs when they know it will be getting torn down.

Call it conspiracy if you want but this reeks of favoritism again. Its not a coincidence that this penalty happens to come when all the chosen ones are at the bottom of the standings after the first race.

09/23/2010 12:11 PM

the nascar “officials” are little more than rodeo clowns these days they couldnt make an intelligent call on a bet. why not have vince mcmahon come over and run nascar like the wwe, hell theyre almost there now. im 62 andbeen a fan a long time but i believe my nascar watching days are about done. either the rules apply to all equally, or throw the rule book out. CLINT GOT SCREWED,, PERIOD

09/23/2010 12:13 PM

NASCAR wonders why the TV ratings and attendance are dropping? It’s for BS like this.
Mike Helton and Brian France are a freaking joke!

09/23/2010 12:23 PM

And the Chase to give Jimmie Johnson the Championship begins!

Which competitor between Johnson and the top spot will be penalized next week?

Tune in to find out!

phil h
09/23/2010 12:55 PM

this is nothing new.been going on for years.Petty with a big motor at Charlotte…gets the win!and countless others.and in one case at North Wilkesboro,everyone in attendance saw Darrell Waltrip win the race,but because of some error by Nascar,Brett Bodine went home with the checkers!Oh well,I’d rather be racing than not!

09/23/2010 01:01 PM

Cheaters should not get to keep trophys

09/23/2010 01:40 PM

Wait! What?
“ was outside of tolerance in the same area that the team had been warned about the previous week. That does look a little incriminating for the team ..”
Sure does, doesn’t it?

“That the “story” was released at all was ridiculous.”
Well, someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I can’t find any mention of this (Richmond) story prior to Tuesday, Sept. 21, exactly one day before this new (penalty) story was released.
I’m sure that’s just coincidence, right? NASCAR wouldn’t purposely play the media like that would they?

09/23/2010 01:49 PM

One other thing – by calling Bowyer a cheater, NASCAR sure gets the heat off their back about the ‘Chase’, don’t they?

A bumper this far >< too high on one corner and suddenly there’s no more talk about how ridiculous it is for a guy to go from 12th to 2nd in one race in the ‘Chase’.

Yep, that sure worked out real convenient for NASCAR.

09/23/2010 01:56 PM

If the left rear of the car was too high lower the tire pressure.

Doug In Washington (State)
09/23/2010 02:50 PM

Once again, a car can pass pre-race/pre-qualifying inspection and post-race inspection and still be illegal. The actual violation was found during the teardown back at the R&D center. There are technical rules on where and how the body is attached.

You can’t check those with a measuring stick- you have to take the car apart to see. Once it was apart, you can tell if the mount points were in the required “box” per the rules. The tolerances are noted, but teams routinely push the tolerance, and in this case they were “out of the box” as far as what is allowed.

The body was attached in a way that made it possible to be out of tolerance, and while it likely it was intended to be right on the edge of legal, it ended up being NOT legal. I bet Harvick’s car is probably pushing the same limits, and RCR is scrambling to put the mounts back closer to the middle of the “box” rather than out at the edge.

Bad Wolf
09/23/2010 03:11 PM

NASCAR just had TV ratings show the biggest drop-off in viewership for the first race of the Chase. Next day – huge controversy over illegal car by a sheet of paper. What an amazing coincidence!! I have absolutely no faith in the integrity of sanctioning officials at this point in time. Just one more reason to shut the tv off and find a better way to spend my time.”

DING DING DING!!!!!!! We have a Whinnah!!!

I was just reading in the new TV Guide that the football ratings for both opening games on ESPN and Fox were at 14 year highs, so you can just smell the desperation from Daytona on the contrived contoversy on their drive for higher ratings.

Nascar, I have a solution for you; change the rules and let the teams buy real stock cars and let them do whatever they want using the stock motors and drivelines, but only mandate and have set rules for the safety aspects of the cars. If you do this your ratings will soar and Detroit will be getting a collective chubby, while fans run out on Monday to buy a new showroom model because it kicked ass on Sunday.

09/23/2010 07:19 PM

“No sane person ever believes any Hendrick car is legal.” Junior’s is. :)

@ElecPerk Tork, I agree with you.

09/23/2010 07:33 PM

Guys blaming NASCAR, you are pathetic.
First you keep saying “NASCAR should stick to traditions”, “we are losing traditional fans because NASCAR is changing” and so on but when NASCAR really followed tradition of not taking statsistical win and trophy from race winner regardless of how his car legal is you aren’t satisfied either.

Kevin in SoCal
09/23/2010 07:48 PM

This is almost the same as a pit road speeding penalty. If the speed limit is 55 MPH, NASCAR gives you a 5 MPH “cusion”. If you want to be legal, you set your tach at 58 MPH. But no, the teams push it to 59.99 MPH, and thats why you see people get busted for going 60.02 MPH.
Bowyer’s team pushed the tolerance too far, and now they got burned for it.

09/23/2010 07:59 PM

Metal dimensions can grow or contract 1/16” just with a slight change in ambient temperature. Is the R&D t-stat set at the same temp as RCR’s shop? Why would RCR push the limits after being warned? A few good taps from the wrecker and other cars can’t move metal a 1/16” ? What a big, steaming pile of crap from the mother-ship. And you don’t think the pre-race inspection is intense with the zillion points the templates and car must adhere to? Nascar is a turd in a punchbowl.

09/23/2010 10:12 PM

Good article, Amy.

The tale of Glenn Dunnaway being stripped of the win in the first sanctioned race is only part of the story. The next year, at the first race at the new Darlington Speedway, Johnny Mantz won, but other competitors claimed his car wasn’t legal and demanded a tear-down. This time, Big Bill France refused. Of course, one of the four owners of Mantz’s car was…Big Bill France.

NA$CAR has been crooked since France stole it from the rest of the racing community right after that famous meeting in the Ebony Room of the Streamline Hotel.

09/23/2010 10:58 PM

I guess I’m the last one to comment, but here goes: Call me a conspiracy theorist; fine. But we cannot have someone like Clint Bowyer showing America just how STOOOPID this whole chase crap is! Think about it: this driver barely makes it into the “playoff”, then goes from (almost) last to (almost) first in ONE FREAKING RACE! Anyone can see just how ludicrous this makes that whole “chase” crap look, so we need to make an example of this upstart, don’t we? But I truly believe it goes much deeper than that. Consider this (fasten your seatbelts!): When Brain Farce originally made his deal with Toyota to bring them into NA$CAR, a promise was made to Toyota of a championship trophy within X number of years. Now, knowing full well that the old-school, hard-core stock-car racing fans are no big fans of the “rice-burners”, the Brain Farce had to come up with a strategy to make this Japanese championship somewhat more palatable. Enter four consecutive championships for (insert driver’s name here), in order to make the masses so sick and tired of the same old same old, that they’ll all jump for joy at the thought of someone, ANYONE else as champion. So MARK MY WORDS: A TOYOTA WILL WIN THE 2010 CUP! It will probably be Hamlin, so Shrub can “knock him off his throne” next year. But for 2010, let’s keep ole fourtime in the running, to keep all those fans hoping for something new. So guys like Harvick and Gordon (who have both showed the consistency that would have put them at the top before this CHASECRAP) had better watch their P’s and Q’s, or else his highness will find a way to eliminate them also. Good luck finding a way around this fix! (Gee, all this race fixing is beginning to make me really disgusted)

09/23/2010 11:06 PM

Nascar piss and moans about attendance, then they try too pull a rabbit out of there hats like this one (another Boy Brian wonder blunder)

09/24/2010 11:03 AM

I would love to see Boyer turn right and destroy the 48 car on lap one this sunday.

Just for fun.


Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

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