Clint Bowyer’s point deduction upheld but reduced by NASCAR appellate officer

By Jenna Fryer, AP
Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Clint Bowyer’s 150-point deduction upheld

CONCORD, N.C. — Richard Childress Racing lost its last bid Tuesday to overturn Clint Bowyer’s championship-ending penalty.

NASCAR chief appellate officer John Middlebrook ruled Bowyer will not get back the 150 points he was docked after his winning car at New Hampshire on Sept. 19 failed inspection.

But Middlebrook did reduce two portions of NASCAR’s penalties against RCR. Crew chief Shane Wilson’s $150,000 fine was reduced to $100,000, and the six-race suspensions for Wilson and car chief Chad Haney were cut to four.

“I am ruling NASCAR was correct in its decision to levy penalties,” Middlebrook said in a statement. “I believe that the revisions that have been made to the penalties are consistent and fair to both parties involved.”

It was Middlebrook’s first hearing since accepting the $1-a-year position in February. The former General Motors executive mediated during two hours of testimony between Childress and Sprint Cup Series director John Darby.

When he left the hearing, Childress said regardless of the outcome, he thought the process with Middlebrook was fair.

That didn’t change after the ruling.

“I’m disappointed that the results are not what we wanted, but I feel we received a fair hearing,” he said. “The final step in the appeals process is very good and I can assure you we would not have taken our case to the chief appellate officer if the first step in the process had been as fair.”

It was a marked difference from a week ago, when the team owner was incensed by a three-member appeals panel that upheld the penalty. Childress angrily accused the appeals panel of disregarding testimony from an accident reconstruction expert the owner hired to prove that Bowyer’s car could have been damaged when a tow truck pushed it to Victory Lane.

Childress again had Dr. Charles Manning on site at NASCAR’s research and development center, but Middlebrook did not call him to testify.

Instead, Childress and Darby went before Middlebrook at the same time and presented their cases. During last week’s appeal, each side went individually and was not in the room to hear the testimony.

Darby said the ruling proved NASCAR’s inspection process is consistent, but said the sanctioning body took no pleasure in the process.

“You are never happy. Nobody wins, nobody loses here,” Darby said. “What I look at is a challenge to NASCAR’s inspection procedures and the consistency and I believe what has been shown is … the way we generally do business from the inspection side of the sport is OK.”

Darby remained vague about the issues surrounding Bowyer’s illegal race car.

NASCAR first found issue with the No. 33 Chevrolet following the Sept. 11 race at Richmond, where Bowyer claimed the 12th and final spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. The team was warned that the car was dangerously close to failing inspection, and told its New Hampshire car would receive a thorough examination at the R&D Center.

Bowyer won at New Hampshire, the opening race in the Chase, and rocketed from last to second in the standings, just 35 points out of the lead. But three days later, NASCAR ruled the second inspection found the car was illegal and issued its championship-crippling penalties.

Childress has been adamant that his team would never have brought an illegal car to New Hampshire knowing it was going to be inspected, and that when Bowyer ran out of fuel at the end of the race, the tow truck that pushed the car to Victory Lane caused the damage NASCAR found.

Childress also maintained the car was off by one-sixteenth of an inch — a minuscule amount to cause a season to be ruined.

NASCAR has refused to reveal how far off the car was, and Darby declined multiple requests Tuesday to address the exact infraction. He said only that it was an issue with the frame and the “construction measurements did not fall in line with the rule book.

“What the team and NASCAR both agree with is that they were outside the specifications,” Darby said. “It’s not our job to necessarily inform everyone in the garage that’s competing against them what they did and where they did it. It is our responsibility to make sure all the cars meet the specifications.”

Childress said he was ready to move on and urged NASCAR fans to put the two-week saga behind them to focus on the Chase. Childress still has two cars in contention: Kevin Harvick, who is ranked third in the standings, and Jeff Burton, who is ranked ninth.

“Let’s go racing,” he said. “We’ve got some of the greatest racing coming up, the tightest Chase. We’ve got two cars sitting there now with the opportunity to win, and we’ve been focused. We want to get back to racing for the championship.”

Bowyer’s title hopes were over regardless of the verdict. The penalty knocked him back to 12th in the standings, and two bad races since the infraction made Tuesday’s outcome irrelevant. He admitted after his 25th-place finish at Dover that “our heads weren’t in it” after the penalty. He then had to rally to a 15th-place finish Sunday at home track Kansas Speedway.

Now 252 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson, he’s declared his title hopes over, and Childress said the New Hampshire penalty has spoiled Bowyer’s season.

“Oh definitely, chance to win the championship and the two finishes we had didn’t help it either,” Childress said.

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