This is not how NASCAR wanted to start its Chase for the championship.
Three races into the playoff format that’s intended to captivate fans, and the headlines have been about an alleged illegal car and a penalty that dropped Clint Bowyer and his No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet from second to 12th in points and virtually out of title contention.
Bowyer’s car faced scrutiny beyond belief after he won the Sept. 19 Sprint Cup race in Loudon, N.H., to open the Chase.
The victory made Bowyer the feel-good story of the year. He and crew chief Shane Wilson won their first race of the season at the perfect time.
But it was nullified Wednesday when NASCAR’s National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel upheld a decision last week to dock Bowyer 150 driver’s points and Childress 150 owner’s points and suspend Wilson and car chief Chad Haney for six races each. Wilson was fined an additional $150,000.
Bowyer earned 195 points and $248,250 for the win. His team gets to keep the money and trophy.
NASCAR for decades, since the early days of the late Bill France Sr.’s leadership, has not wanted fans to leave a race to discover later that they didn’t see the official winner get the checkered flag.
If a car is deemed illegal, then it should lose all points earned, and each driver below should move up and get the extra points.
That’s just one flaw with NASCAR’s penal code. That is one reason many scoff at including NASCAR on a list with more traditional sports.
More fodder for skeptics is how a race car can pass prerace and postrace inspections, then be declared illegal three days later when dissected by officials at the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C.
Childress had asked only for a fair hearing, and what he received is as fair as it gets. He has been a longtime friend of NASCAR president Mike Helton, and the last storylines NASCAR could have wanted were ones this situation produced.
The week before Loudon, NASCAR confiscated the No. 33 car used in that race, and, after an involved autopsy, it warned the team that it was close to failing inspection. NASCAR warned it also would send the car used at Loudon back to Concord for another microscopic examination.
"It doesn’t make any sense at all that we would send a car to (Loudon) New Hampshire that wasn’t within NASCAR’s tolerances," Childress said after the penalties were announced. "I am confident we fixed the area of concern and the New Hampshire car left the race shop well within the tolerances required by NASCAR."
That statement makes sense. Childress isn’t a fool. But nothing Childress could present to lessen the penalties swayed the appeals panel.
Credit NASCAR for sticking to its rules and guidelines, but fault it for diminishing the value of inspections at tracks and a misguided philosophy of letting a winner be a winner if it believes he won with an illegal car.
I’m not the one to judge if the infraction gave Bowyer’s car an edge because the last car I built was 1/24th scale. But NASCAR’s system for inspections and penalties for a car it deems to be illegal are not a model any racing organization should use.
Jeff Wolf’s motor sports column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com or 702-383-0247. Visit Wolf’s motor sports blog at lvrj.com/blogs/heavypedal/ throughout the week.