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Pedley: It’s Over For Bowyer

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, September 23 2010

Clint Bowyer takes tires and fuel en route to winning Sunday's Chase-opening race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. (Photo by Tom Whitmore/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

It was February, 2004 at Daytona. Clint Bowyer’s career was about to launch. He had signed to drive a full season in Nationwide for Richard Childress but he opted to start the year off driving in the ARCA race at Speed Weeks.

He finished eighth that hot, hazy day and I headed out of the media center and over to the open-air area which served as the ARCA garages during Speed Weeks. The thought was that Bowyer would be a happy guy, starting off his big season with a top-10 finish.

It might make a good small story or note, I thought.

The thoughts all proved incorrect. Bowyer was out of the car and red-faced angry. He stomped around a bit on the sprigs of grass which were poking up from the sandy soil of the Daytona infield. Then, he was gone. I opted not to give chase.

Bowyer did not win a race he thought he should have won and it would not have mattered had he finished in second place that day. Bowyer accepts only victory.

With that in mind, I could only imagine what happened when word reached him Wednesday that his bid for a Sprint Cup championship had been beheaded by way of a 150-point penalty.

And beheaded not by a slow car, a bad set if tires in the Chase-opening race in New Hampshire or a over-zealous back marker looking to keep his job.

But beheaded by NASCAR officials who confiscated a car that had passed pre-race inspection but failed a second post-race inspection which was held two days after his victory in Loudon had powered him to second place in the Chase standings.

Bowyer has not yet spoken on the record. Wise move, probably.

But car-owner Childress reacted with a statement which asserted that congratulatory pops to the rear bumper of the Bowyer car by peers, and/or a smack to the rear end of the car by the tow truck which pushed it off the track when it ran out of fuel during victory donuts, caused the car to exceed spec.

Childress said the matter will be appealed.

But my guess is that Bowyer shares my lack of faith in the appeal process, has similar concerns about the validity of the infraction – not to mention the appropriateness of the size of the penalty – and knows: Chase over.

My guess is that Bowyer spent Wednesday in less than a philosophical mood.

Penalties for equipment violations are odd things in racing. Especially the type which slammed the No. 33 team.

No car comes off the track exactly the way it went onto the track. Heat, wear, stress and collisions all affect the structure of cars during three-plus-hour-long races.

How much? That would be a moving target.

Bowyer’s car was taken to the NASCAR R and D facility in Concord, N.C. after the race. There – if Childress is correct (NASCAR officials have refused to say exactly what the problem was) – it was found that the left rear of the car at the point at which it is measured, was  60 thousandth of an inch out of spec.

That, I read somewhere, is about the thickness of a pencil lead.

A violation is a violation and none can be overlooked. In theory, that is. In practice, that can get kind of sticky.

In practice, as all sports fans know, the issuance of penalties can be selective. In football, for instance, some kind of penalty can be called, virtually, on every play. Ditto for basketball. In baseball, top players have smaller strike zones.

In racing, penalties have long been used to send messages. They have been used to enforce not just rules, but subordination.

They have been used to smack down not just those who violate the letter of the law but also those deemed to be violating the spirit of the law. They have been used to fend off what officials perceive to be assaults on the integrity of the sport.

Where does Wednesday’s penalty fall within these contexts?

The fact that NASCAR could not or would not explain the exact nature of the infraction, the fact that NASCAR seems to have in place a selective use of warnings, that officials have a cavalier attitude when it comes to motives (they said Wednesday that they don’t know if the infraction would improve performance nor did they care), that the car passed pre-race inspection is all going to lead some to think the penalty was excessive and arbitrary.

And because the penalty occurred in the Chase and to a team that is clearly of championship caliber, some are going to think the penalty excessively out of line terms of fitting the crime.

Knowing Clint Bowyer a bit, I can say with reasonable certainty that he feels today  that he was sentenced to death for committing a misdemeanor.

And with the evidence presented, I have to agree.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, September 23 2010
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