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Bowyer’s Fate In One Man’s Hands

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, September 29 2010

Richard Childress Racing's appeal of the penalty to Clint Bowyer after his victory in New Hampshire two weeks ago has been denied. (Photo by Gregg Ellman-Pool/Getty Images)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Clint Bowyer’s hopes to remain alive in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship now rest in the hands of John Middlebrook, a former executive at General Motors who is now the chief appellate officer for matters concerning NASCAR penalties.

And those hopes appear slim because appeals to the the chief appellate officer have only been successful four times in 94 attempts over the years.

Turning to Middlebrook was necessitated when Bowyer and his Richard Childress Racing team were turned back Wednesday by the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel in their attempt to have penalties issued by NASCAR officials reduced or eliminated.

In a statement issued Thursday morning, Childress said, “I am disappointed but not surprised by the decision knowing how the appeal system is structured. We proved beyond a reasonable doubt how the car was found to be out of tolerance after the race. Knowing how the system works, I brought a check with me to cover the cost of the appeal hearing and we have already submitted our request to appeal to the chief appellate officer.

“That being said, we will not let this be a distraction to the primary goal of one of our teams winning the Sprint Cup Series championship. We owe it to our fans and our sponsors to stay focused and bring the championship back to RCR. We will have no further comment on the matter until the appeal is final.”

Bowyer was docked the 150 driver points,  Childress was penalized 150 owner points and crew chief for the No. 33 car, Shane Wilson, was fined $150,000 and suspended for six races by NASCAR a week ago.

The penalties were levied by NASCAR after Bowyer’s car – which won the Chase-opening race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sept. 19 – was found to be 60-thousandths of an inch high in a rear quarter panel.

Though the car passed pre-race and post-race inspections at New Hampshire, it was confiscated and taken to the NASCAR Research and Development Facility in Concord, N.H.

There, under more intense scrutiny, the problem was found.

Bowyer and the Childress team had argued that the spec failure was the result of being bumped from behind by other cars after the race and/or when a tow truck pushed the car – which had ran out of fuel during celebratory burnouts after the race – to victory lane.

Childress brought an expert witness to the appeal hearing, which lasted almost five hours on Wednesday. His name was Dr. Charles Manning and works for Accident Reconstruction Analysis in Raleigh, N.C.

The victory in New Hampshire had moved Bowyer from 12th to second in points. Had he not been penalized he would have moved onto the second Chase event – Sunday’s AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway – 35 points behind leader Denny Hamlin.

Bowyer struggled at Dover. He was penalized for speeding in the pits and also made hard contact with a wall. He finished 25th – three laps off the pace.

Bowyer will start Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway – his home track – 235 points behind Hamlin.

The National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel is comprised of four members – appellate administrator George Silbermann and three others drawn from a pool of about 30 former crew chiefs, former team owners, track administrators and others.

Silbermann, an employee of NASCAR, does not vote.

The panel issued a statement on Thursday night. It read, in part:

“The Appellants requested and were granted a deferral of the suspensions and fine until such time as this hearing could be convened.

The Appellants did not contest that the car measured out of specifications upon inspection.

The Appellants argued that, having received a warning about the car body of the #33 car being “too close” following the Richmond race, that it was inconceivable that they would bring a non-conforming car to New Hampshire.

They argued that the left rear frame member was actually bent upward as a result of the car being pushed towards Victory Lane by a wrecker after the post-race burnouts, which resulted in the left rear measurement “hard point” being too high. To this end, they also presented an accident reconstruction specialist to demonstrate that a wrecker might bend up the left rear strut in the trunk under certain conditions. The specialists, however, indicated that such an occurrence would strictly affect the left rear because of the match-up between the wrecker pushbar and the angle of the racecar’s rear bumper. He went on to say that the corresponding right rear measurements should not be affected, in his view, nor the frame member deformed as a team representative had alleged.

The Appellants also contested the severity and timing of the penalty.

Claims that the wrecker caused the infraction were negated by the telemetry from the car which did not show a sharp impact spike; by the fact that the rear template still fit snugly across the entire rear of the car; by a visual inspection of the rear of the car which showed nothing of note in the way of damage; and a visual review of the videotape of post race assistance tendered by the wrecker which appeared as relatively gentle pushing.

Of significance to the Panel were some additional facts which came to light during the hearing. Particularly of note were the facts that both rear hard points, left and right, were high, and that the rear of the body was offset on the frame.

The Panel found that the penalties were consistent for infractions of this magnitude.

Therefore, it is the unanimous decision of the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel to uphold the original penalties.

The periods of suspension shall be adjusted from the date of the hearing.

The Appellants have the right under Section 15 of the Rule Book to appeal this decision to the National Stock Car Racing Chief Appellate Officer. The Appellants submitted such a request and the fee immediately after the conclusion of the hearing.

John Capels

Lyn St James

Waddell Wilson

George Silbermann – Appellate Administrator and non-voting member

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

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, September 29 2010
2 Comments

2 Comments »

  • Charles says:

    I dont think it is right for a former 40 year General Motors employee to make a decision for a 40 General Motors team owner!

    Nascar should have someone better resume than John Middlebrook to handle penaties! His close ties to General Motors could get in the way of making a fair decision!

    I am sure Mr Middlebrook is a good person, but its Nascars fault for not having a better ‘conflicts of interest” policy when hiring someone that could make the difference in who wins the Chase!

    Putting people on figurehead boards and positions is one thing, giving them power to handle penalties is another!!!!!!

  • Terrell Davis says:

    NASCAR’s Appeals Panel making a ruling on penalties handed down by NASCAR is sort of like the fox watching over the hen house. If NASCAR was really interested in an honest appeals process an independent appeals panel would have authority and final say. Most of the people, if not all, that make up the body of the Appeals Panel are still associated with NASCAR in one way or another. Has anyone ever won an appeal with NASCAR? If so it’s probably one that wasn’t very relevant.