Clint Bowyer served with crippling penalty for Loudon infractions

When the hammer drops in NASCAR, it drops hard and without mercy.

Wednesday afternoon, NASCAR levied points penalties and fines against the No. 33 Richard Childress Racing team that may, for all intents and purposes, eliminate Clint Bowyer from Chase contention.

For apparent alterations made to the rear of the vehicle used in Sunday's win at Loudon, Bowyer was penalized 150 points and Richard Childress was penalized 150 owner points. Crew chief Shane Wilson was also suspended for six races and fined $150,000.

Despite the penalties, Bowyer will keep the win from Sunday's race. The penalty knocks Bowyer from second in the points standings, 35 points behind Denny Hamlin, to 12th, last place in the Chase and 185 points behind Hamlin.

The car passed its initial inspection at New Hampshire on Sunday, but was taken by NASCAR back to its North Carolina research and development center. It was there that NASCAR ruled that the rear end of the car had been manipulated by Richard Childress Racing.

Earlier Wednesday, AP/Yahoo! Sports' Jenna Fryer reported that NASCAR was taking a closer look at Bowyer's New Hampshire car, a day after Fryer reported that NASCAR had warned RCR about Bowyer's Richmond car.

In a statement, Childress fired back at NASCAR, saying that the rear of the car was less than 1/16th of an inch outside the range of engineering tolerance. While crews can make numerous minor alterations to a car in order to improve its handling or fuel mileage, it's not yet clear what advantage the alterations to the rear of the 33 would have provided Bowyer. And that, in itself, is reason enough for Childress to question why the team would take such a risk.

"We feel certain that the cause of the car being out of tolerance by sixty thousandths of an inch, less than 1/16 of an inch, happened as a result of the wrecker hitting the rear bumper when it pushed the car into winner’s circle," Childress said in the statement. (For comparison's sake, a fingernail is about forty thousandths of an inch thick.)

"The rear bumper was also hit on the cool down lap by other drivers congratulating Clint on his victory. That’s the only logical way that the left-rear of the car was found to be high at the tech center. We will appeal NASCAR’s ruling and take it all the way to the NASCAR commissioner for a final ruling, if need be."

After Sunday's race, Wilson said that the team's status as the 12th seed at the start of the Chase was "going to allow us to race a lot looser than some people." Now, that quote may have another meaning besides fuel mileage. Bowyer won Sunday's race after Tony Stewart ran out of gas as he approached the white flag. Bowyer and Stewart had last pitted on lap 208 of the 300-lap race.

If his appeals are unsuccessful, Bowyer now faces a near-impossible task to climb back into the Chase, snuffing out what had been an unexpectedly hopeful time for the entire 33 team.

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