DOVER, Del. — Clint Bowyer’s car flunked inspection and few around the garage are buying his alibi.
Bowyer is sticking to his story.
He gave a defiant defense of his Chase-opening victory on Friday, saying he “wouldn’t cheat” to win a race after his car failed a follow-up inspection. If anything should be blamed for the infraction, he told reporters, it’s a tow truck.
“We have a lot more integrity for myself and our race team at RCR,” Bowyer said.
Richard Childress, his owner, was united with his driver in blaming a wrecker for wrecking Bowyer’s championship run. The defense: The wrecker hit the rear bumper when it pushed the No. 33 car into the winner’s circle at New Hampshire.
“I don’t think anyone could look us square in the face and say without a shadow of a doubt that the wrecker couldn’t have moved that car sixty-thousandths” of an inch, Childress said.
Bowyer said he’s looking for answers about why NASCAR levied harsh penalties against him that crippled his chances at winning the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Bowyer was penalized 150 points after Sunday’s win at New Hampshire and fell from second to 12th in the standings, though he is appealing the ruling.
NASCAR also fined crew chief Shane Wilson $150,000 and suspended him for six Sprint Cup races, car chief Chad Haney was suspended six races and Childress was docked 150 owner points. Wilson was at the track Friday because the penalties are under appeal, set for next week.
Bowyer said his team was “triple sure” his car was legal after receiving a warning following the previous race at Richmond.
Other drivers weren’t so sure.
Points leader Denny Hamlin, who starts fourth on Sunday at Dover, blasted Bowyer’s illegal car. Hamlin was runner-up last week and said he knew he had “the fastest legal car,” and that there was no way the push of a tow truck could flunk a car at inspection, especially considering the beating it takes over several hundred grueling miles of racing.
“They’re just trying to salvage their season basically, and they’re going to do everything they can,” said Hamlin, who has a 45-point lead over Kevin Harvick — instead of Bowyer — for second with nine races left in the Chase.
NASCAR said the No. 33 Chevrolet from Sunday’s race had been altered and did not meet its strict specifications. Childress said the penalty was handed down because the car was out of tolerance “less than 1-16 of an inch,” but added that he wouldn’t be “dumb enough” to bring an illegal car to the track shortly after the warning at Richmond.
“All I’m going to ask for is a fair appeal,” Childress said.
Bowyer’s car passed an initial inspection at New Hampshire on Sunday, but was taken by NASCAR back to its North Carolina research and development center for a more thorough exam. It was there that NASCAR found the rear end of the car had been manipulated.
NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said RCR brought Bowyer’s Dover car to the center on Wednesday for another examination.
“It was strictly to measure it, let them take their sheet away and compare it to the numbers that they have back at their facility,” Pemberton said.
He added it “remains to be seen” if NASCAR will inspect Bowyer’s car again next week.
Asked about the car being off by pocket change, Pemberton said, “That’s a number the team is quoting. We’re not. We haven’t quoted a number of any sort and won’t.”
Bowyer described an “ugly meeting” called by Childress after the initial warning to guarantee the car passed inspection the next time around. Bowyer said he knew, first place or last, that the Chevrolet would be inspected after the Chase opener. He said that makes it all the more puzzling that NASCAR believes the team would knowingly try to gain an advantage.
“I think they should just be happy they are in the Chase. They were warned,” Hamlin said. “They got in, then they got busted.”
Bowyer said he appreciated that NASCAR warned his team.
“That’s why we tried to fix the thing — that’s why we did fix the thing — before it went to New Hampshire so this wouldn’t happen,” he said.
Hamlin didn’t buy the explanation.
“Everyone’s known it for months,” he said. “They’ve been warned, way before Richmond.”
Hamlin wasn’t the only driver who backed NASCAR’s decision.
Former champion Kurt Busch: “Was it from the wrecker pushing it back to victory lane? No.”
Four-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson: “There is zero tolerance. It doesn’t matter if it is only the thickness of a quarter.”
Bowyer had a six-point list of complaints and clarifications about how his car ended up with such a crushing penalty. He was passionate in stating his case that his No. 33 crew did nothing wrong and how the ruling tarnished his victory.
Bowyer led a race-high 177 laps, lost the lead to Tony Stewart, then stretched his final tank of gas 92 laps to win the race when Stewart ran out of fuel right before the final lap. The victory snapped an 88-race winless streak for Bowyer.
“If that (infraction) won me that race, I’d gladly give it back to them,” he said. “We won that race on fuel mileage.”
RCR has two other cars in the Chase. Harvick moved up to second in the standings, 45 points behind Hamlin, after Bowyer’s penalty, and Jeff Burton is ninth in the Chase.
“It’s an odd circumstance,” Burton said. “I’m not questioning NASCAR’s measuring abilities, but the intent was certainly to be 100 percent legal. There is a circumstance that’s odd there.”
Greg Biffle, a Chase driver, may have summed up the week best.
“Whoever cheats the best wins,” Biffle said to laughter. “That the old saying, right?