A lot of attention has been given to the penalty NASCAR assessed to Clint Bowyer Sept. 22 after his race-winning Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet was found to be less than one-sixteenth of an inch out of tolerance in the rear of the car during the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
And rightfully so.
The 150-point penalty came one week after NASCAR warned Bowyer and his No. 33 BB&T Sprint Cup Series team at Richmond Int’l Raceway that his car was close to the rear height tolerance.
When Bowyer’s team went over that tolerance at New Hampshire, NASCAR hit the team hard. Bowyer took the hit in points from NASCAR. He lost his crew chief, Shane Wilson, and car chief, Chad Haney, for six weeks, and likely lost any chance he had at the championship.
Kudos to NASCAR for making a statement to the other teams that bending the rules past their breaking point is an action that will not be tolerated.
But Bowyer wasn’t the biggest loser in this deal.
The real driver penalized didn’t even drive for Richard Childress Racing. No slight to Bowyer — his team belongs in the Chase for the Sprint Cup — but the chance of him winning the Chase was a long shot even if no penalties were assessed.
So Denny Hamlin lost more.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver is a frontrunner to claim his first title.
The driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota has a series-high six wins and led the point standings by 35 points after the second of 10 Chase for the Cup races Sunday at Dover Int’l Speedway.
But his lead could be greater.
The 29 year old lost 20 points — those he would have received if he had been awarded the victory once Bowyer’s car failed post-race inspection.
If NASCAR gets its wish for a close championship finish in Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 21, this penalty — to Bowyer and ultimately Hamlin — may decide the title.
Hamlin’s strongest races are later in the season — starting in Fontana, Calif., at Auto Club Speedway and at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C. He expects to run well and score points at those tracks and the ones that follow.
But for those tracks to help Hamlin claim a championship, he needs to gather as many points at the tracks the Chesterfield, Va., native is not particularly strong at. New Hampshire Motor Speedway was one of them — and the extra 20 points may prove critical.
To be fair, NASCAR rarely takes wins away from teams found to be in violation of the rules in post-race inspection.
They didn’t do it in 2007 when Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 99 driven by Carl Edwards failed post-race inspection (also for a height infraction). In fact, the last time NASCAR took away a win for failing a post-race inspection was 1955 for an illegal engine modification after “Fireball” Roberts won a race on Florida’s Daytona Beach.
And because of that, Hamlin didn’t expect NASCAR to take away the victory from Bowyer.
“Based on precedent that NASCAR set I understand that they get to keep the win, they get to keep the trophy and all of that,” Hamlin said. “…I think that they (NASCAR) just filed right in line with what they’ve done when guys have had those body infractions in the past… I’m not too discouraged with what we ended up with there, but I know we were the fastest legal car.”
And that should be rewarded. It makes sense.
It could decide the championship.
With bonus points added to place value on victories through the season and in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, it becomes crucial to take wins away from those that are found to be in violation of the rules. Otherwise it penalizes a team — in this case Hamlin’s — that should have bolstered its championship hopes at New Hampshire.
So while Bowyer and Richard Childress continue to defend their team’s actions —whether they purposely pushed the envelope near and then past the tolerance or a wrecker did it for them — they and they alone should face the consequences.
But to make that true, the victory should be stripped and awarded to the first legal car — Hamlin’s.