NASCAR was scrutinizing Clint Bowyer’s race-winning car from New Hampshire on Wednesday in an inspection process that could derail his championship chances.
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Bowyer won Sunday’s opening race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship to vault from 12th to second in the standings and into the thick of the title hunt. Although the No. 33 Chevrolet passed its initial inspection at the track, NASCAR discovered issues with the rear measurements on the car during a more thorough examination at its research and development center, according to two people familiar with the inspection process. They requested anonymity because the inspection was ongoing.
Bowyer was at an appearance Wednesday afternoon in Charlotte and was asked about the inspection process. He said he was only informed of the situation about half an hour before the appearance at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Asked specifically about the car, Bowyer pointed to his driving role and said he did not know what any potential issue was.
“I have no idea. I show up on Friday, I bring my helmet and HANS and get in the car," he said. "Anything that happens Monday to Friday, I don’t know. I’ve been working on my dirt cars all week. I know we won the race this weekend, and it was a lot of fun. We led the most laps and won the race. The guys work hard in the shop to build fair, fast race cars. Besides that, I don’t know what’s going on.”
The development came a day after NASCAR called in Richard Childress Racing officials to warn them that Bowyer’s Chase-clinching car from Richmond had nearly failed inspection because its back end was very close to the mandated limits.
”They were in the box, but getting close to some of the tolerances and we asked them to come in to see if they aren’t getting off on one of their build sheets,” NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
That car was chosen by NASCAR for random inspection following Bowyer’s sixth-place finish in the Sept. 11 race. The run gave him the 12th and final spot in the Chase, which began Sunday in New Hampshire. Bowyer went in as the last seed, but snapped an 88-race losing streak with a dramatic victory in the opener.
It thrust the RCR driver into the heart of the title chase, and he trails leader Denny Hamlin by just 35 points headed into this weekend’s race at Dover International Speedway.
But that could change if his Chevrolet fails inspection. Although NASCAR does not typically strip wins from drivers, the sanctioning body levies significant points penalties on the team and driver, as well as monetary fines and a lengthy suspension for the crew chief.
Sunday’s victory was the first at the Cup level for Shane Wilson, Bowyer’s crew chief.
An illegal car at Richmond would not have had the same effect for Bowyer. Penalties typically range between 50 and 100 points, and Bowyer had a 142-point cushion over 13th-place driver Ryan Newman after Richmond.
But NASCAR learned from Bowyer’s car at Richmond that RCR was creeping toward the mandated tolerance levels, and that could have triggered a more thorough inspection on Sunday’s winning car.
Each week, NASCAR takes at least the winning car and a randomly selected second car back to its North Carolina facility for further testing to make sure the cars have been built within mandate design limits. It also takes the engines from the winning car, the random selection and the first car that drops out of the race for other than an on-track accident.
It’s not uncommon for NASCAR to take additional cars and engines back to North Carolina.