Clint Bowyer is ticked off.
In a highly animated press conference, NASCAR's most laid-back driver outlined his case of innocence against the accusations that his team brought and won with an illegal car last Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway – an allegation that led to a 150-point penalty which essentially ended Bowyer's title chances.
"I don't believe we did anything wrong. I want my fans to know that," began a fired-up Bowyer. "There's a lot of integrity that goes into this sport. I'm damn proud to be a part of this sport. I love this sport and wouldn't cheat to win a race in this sport."
With only a quarter as a prop, Bowyer made a very compelling argument. He started by laying out a timeline:
Last Wednesday, NASCAR warned Richard Childress Racing that the left and right rear of Bowyer's Richmond car was close to being over the height tolerance. NASCAR also told RCR that Bowyer's New Hampshire car would be taken to NASCAR's research and development center following the race, regardless of where it finished. Immediately following the warning, team owner Richard Childress called his troops together and issued a "butt chewing."
"It was a make-sure-make-damn-sure-that-car-passes-tech [speech]," Bowyer said, "that car" being Bowyer's New Hampshire vehicle.
With only two hours to work with before his New Hampshire car was set to hit the road from Charlotte to Loudon, N.H., Bowyer's crew went about going over the car to make sure it fit NASCAR's specifications. Childress says his organization has one of the most sophisticated measuring systems in the sport, and he knows "without a shadow of a doubt" that Bowyer's car was "well" within tolerance when it left the race shop.
Bowyer noted that once at the track in New Hampshire, the car passed both pre- and post-race inspections. From there, it was taken to NASCAR's research and development center back in North Carolina for a more thorough final inspection, which is routine for the winning car and other randomly selected cars.
News first broke of Bowyer's Richmond car being close to failing inspection the day after his New Hampshire win. Bowyer believes that story forced NASCAR to make an example of someone.
"I think NASCAR has a lot of problems with a lot of cars on the race track being outside the box," Bowyer said. "They needed to set an example."
With that, Bowyer pulled a quarter out of his pocket to show how high over tolerance NASCAR is saying his car was.
"Less than the thickness of that quarter right there resulted in a 150-point fine," he said. "Before or after this, grab this and ask yourself if that was a performance-enhancing thing."
While Bowyer might not think such a small measurement can make a big difference, Denny Hamlin disagrees.
"That is a crock," Hamlin said. "Let me tell you something, that helps a lot. I know when we gain five points of downforce our car runs a ton better.
"I think that they should just be happy that they're in the Chase at this point," he continued. "They were warned and they were warned before Richmond. Everyone in the garage knows that. They're the ones who wanted to press the issue and get all they could to make sure they got in the Chase. They got in it and then they were busted."
Whatever the measurement NASCAR says Bowyer's car was over by is irrelevant. When running a foot race, there's no degree of false starting, only false starting. NASCAR establishes a line, and if you're over it, you're over it.
Besides, Bowyer has better arguments to make, namely that something happened during or after the race to alter the height of his car. He was pushed to victory lane by a two-ton semi; the left-rear quarter panel was split in two when the race ended; and only the left side of the car was found to be out of tolerance, not both sides, which was the problem with his Richmond car.
And then there's the burnout defense. If he knew they were up to no good, Bowyer makes the case that after winning the race he very easily could have "accidentally" slammed the rear of his car into the wall while doing a victory burnout, thus rendering any inspection useless. He didn't, he said, out of respect for NASCAR knowing that they were going to take his car back to the R&D center.
"If this thing was knocked out a half an inch after the race, I could see something being made," he said.
From a layman's perspective, Bowyer makes a compelling case. NASCAR, however, remains unconvinced.
"We understand that we have had cars with some severe body damage and cars without, and we don't feel that the incidental contact from a push from a wrecker helped push this car out of tolerance at all," Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition, said Wednesday.
The ultimate outcome is now in the hands of NASCAR's appeals board, as Childress has filed an appeal against the ruling. The appeal will be held Wednesday.
Regardless of how this plays out, NASCAR has a bigger fight on its hands, namely the battle over public opinion and the perception that, for whatever reason, its method of governing isn't on the up and up. Fair or not, there is a level of distrust that exists, and having one of its good-ole-boy drivers fuel the fire for conspiracy theorists doesn't help.
"My dad owns a towing business – has been since I was born in 1979," Bowyer said Friday. "I know a little something about wreckers. About 15 years ago they took them push bumpers off of them for this very reason. I remember back, people used to come in a snow storm, 'Please push me out of the snow bank.' You'd push them out of the snow bank, two days later they'd show up with a body shop bill in their hand wanting you to pay the body shop bill for the damage you did to the back of their car. This could happen. That's the only question I have for you guys is to ask yourselves if it is possible for this to happen."
Though it's now incumbent upon Bowyer to prove to NASCAR that it is possible, it's also incumbent upon NASCAR to prove to fans that it's not.