Was it worth it? Was it worth it for Clint Bowyer – and by Bowyer I mean the crew chief and entire No. 33 team that set up the winning car at New Hampshire that ultimately failed NASCAR's inspection – to push the envelope?
Just three days after kicking off the 2010 Chase with a surprising win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Bowyer got the book thrown at him. NASCAR, having put Bowyer's car through its rigorous inspection process and determining that it didn't fit the template, docked Bowyer 150 points, suspended his crew chief Shane Wilson for six races and fined Wilson $150,000.
The points penalty moves Bowyer from second in the standings – just 35 points back of Denny Hamlin in the Chase for the Sprint Cup – to 12th, 185 points out of first place.
So was it worth it?
Questions and answers
Why does Bowyer keep the win? "We don't consider taking away the win." – Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition.
Why did it take until Wednesday when there is inspection immediately following the race? NASCAR does its final inspection on Tuesday.
Why 150 points? It's the same penalty handed down to Brian Vickers in 2008 for a similar infraction.
Have the other RCR cars of Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton been close to failing inspection? No
Why, if a car is deemed close but not illegal, does NASCAR issue a warning? "A big responsibility of NASCAR is to work as hard to keep people out of trouble as it is to right penalties. Obviously when it gets to the point that we have to write a penalty, it's not fun for everybody. So if we can take steps in the interim or in the in-betweens to put something to rest and not have it be an issue, well, by all means we'll exhaust every effort that we can to do that." – John Darby, Sprint Cup director.
Will there be an appeal? Yes
Let's be honest about something: Bowyer came into the Chase as the final qualifier, and while it was a good little story the way he raced his way into the 12-driver field, the odds were heavily against him challenging the likes of Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch for the title.
If Wilson is any sort of realist, he certainly understood this, having watched from a front-row seat all season long as the competition proved to be just a little better. And so, in the weeks leading up to the Chase, he was probably searching for more speed, which is how NASCAR became concerned enough with Bowyer's Richmond car that they warned Bowyer and his crew that they were close to crossing the line.
This isn't to say Wilson deliberately tried to break the rules. Rather, that he was doing his job.
As a crew chief, it's your job to get faster. That means testing the rules, even if only a little, because in this world, even a little bit – like a tenth of a second – is the difference between qualifying first or 21st.
NASCAR wouldn't go into specifics about exactly where Bowyer's car was illegal, saying only that it revolves around "how the body of the car is located on the frame," explained Cup Series director John Darby.
Richard Childress Racing issued a statement disputing the penalty, saying the infraction – according to RCR, the car was found to be sixty-thousandths of an inch beyond NASCAR's tolerance – was possibly caused by contact with a wrecker – having run out of gas, Bowyer had to be pushed to victory lane – or with another car.
"NASCAR informed us after the Richmond race that we were very close to their maximum tolerances," Richard Childress said. "They also told us they were going to take our New Hampshire car to the NASCAR Technical Center after that race. It doesn't make any sense at all that we would send a car to New Hampshire that wasn't within NASCAR's tolerances."
RCR will appeal the ruling, though probably to no avail as NASCAR rarely overturns penalties.
Whatever happens, it doesn't change the fact that had they stood pat, Bowyer and his crew weren't going to win a title, which is exactly where they are now. A 185-point deficit is too much to make up, even with nine races still to go.
So when the question is asked if it was worth it, the answer has to be yes. When he arrived in New Hampshire, Bowyer wasn't a legit title contender. When he left, he was.