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Minter: Lots Of Questions Surround Penalty

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, September 23 2010

Clint Bowyer and crew chief Shane Wilson won the Chase-opening Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway but probably lost the Chase. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer

There are lots of questions out there surrounding the penalties placed on Clint Bowyer and his No. 33 team, penalties that not only dropped him from second to last in the Chase standings but also likely took him out of the running for the title.

Besides the 185 points he has to make up on leader Denny Hamlin over just nine races, he’ll have to run the next six of those races without his regular crew chief and car chief. Despite the depth of talent at Richard Childress Racing, that’s a lot to overcome in a short period of time.

But one thing is for certain – there really are no winners in this deal.

On one hand, NASCAR looks tough for busting a Chase contender who had the potential of giving favorites Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin a run for the money. But NASCAR also looks bad because some will say that the sport is a den of cheaters and that Bowyer’s presence in the Chase is tainted because of the issues his team had at Richmond the week before.

Cheating is probably the wrong word. Looking too hard for an advantage might be a better way to describe the alleged crime. With a rule book as specific as NASCAR’s it’s tough to gain any advantage from a car-preparation standpoint without risking a Bowyer-like penalty. But as any Legends racer knows, if you don’t look for some leeway in the rule book, you’ll get outrun every week.

The competition in NASCAR is so tight, particularly among the top 12, that any advantage, even a small one, can make a huge difference.

And to put Bowyer’s crime in perspective, 60 thousandths of an inch (the amount the Childress camp acknowledged) is about the size of the lead in a pencil. If the infraction were put into percentage form, there would be a stack of zeroes after the decimal point before you got to a bigger number.

Many will wonder whether Bowyer’s team owner, Richard Childress is correct when he says the height problem is a result of a push from the track wrecker to Victory Lane at New Hampshire or from congratulatory contact from competitors on the cool-down lap. That sounds plenty plausible.

The teams that benefitted points-wise from the penalty likely will do little celebrating. Instead they’ll be worrying about whether they’ll run afoul of the NASCAR cops, either by getting too far past the gray area of the rule book or because of something like contact on the race track.

With all that is at stake in NASCAR these days, it’s odd that the rules enforcers would wait until after a car runs – and wins – a race to do a thorough inspection of its construction, the kind of inspection that turned up the alleged violation on the 33 car.

Why not check those kinds of things before the cars race, before the whole racing world is led to believe that a driver won a race fair and square?

Most every Saturday night short track promoter has learned that his or her life is a lot simpler when post-race tech deals mostly with issues that a team could hide such as engine displacement or with things that could be altered at the track or during a race.

NASCAR officials continue to maintain that they won’t strip wins from a driver, but in Bowyer’s case that’s essentially what they did with a points penalty that dropped him from second to 12th in the standings with just nine races to make up the lost ground. That trophy he got to keep probably will never mean very much, unless he wins his appeal.

And for now, fans won’t know until midweek whether what they saw and heard on Sunday is the way it really was.

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, September 23 2010
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