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NASCAR takes a double-hit as the playoffs open: TV ratings plummet, and winner Clint Bowyer hit with heavy penalties.

  Happier times, for Clint Bowyer (R) and car owner Richard Childress (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Mike Mulhern


   DOVER, Del.

  NASCAR's championship chase has taken a major double hit this week, the first week of the 10-race playoffs:
   First, TV ratings for the race, on ESPN, dropped precipitously from last season's event. The Loudon 300 this Sunday pulled one of the lowest ratings of the season, attracting about 3.7 million viewers (ESPN said the final national household coverage racing of 2.6, compared to last season's 3.2 rating (on ABC).
   Second, winner Clint Bowyer was socked with championship-killing penalties by NASCAR for running a car with an altered chassis.
   So while Bowyer's surprise victory in Sunday's New Hampshire 300 was a heart-warming touch for stock car racing's Sprint Cup series, that feel-good win is now soured as the tour hits Dover for the second race of the chase.
   The TV ratings issue was shocking enough, but Wednesday's decision by NASCAR officials blew a hole right through any feel-good...and all-but knocked Bowyer right out of the championship chase with some hefty penalties and suspensions.
   Bowyer and team owner Richard Childress were each hit with whopping 150-point fines, crew chief Shane Wilson was tagged with a huge $150,000 fine and was suspended until Nov. 3rd, and car chief Chad Haney was also suspended until Nov. 3.
   NASCAR accused the team of altering the chassis of its car.
   The post-race inspection at the NASCAR R&D center took several days, and raises questions, of course, about NASCAR at-track pre-race inspections, since Bowyer's car was passed several times during inspections at Loudon.
   The official NASCAR statement, issued late Wednesday afternoon is that the Bowyer-Wilson-Childress team "was found to be in violation of Sections 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing); 12-4-J (any determination by NASCAR officials that the race equipment used in the event does not conform to NASCAR rules); and 20-3 (car body location specifications in reference to the certified chassis did not meet NASCAR-approved specifications) of the 2010 NASCAR Rule Book."
   That wasn't the only post-race penalties assessed for violations at Loudon: the Michael McDowell team was hit with a $50,000 fine and crew chief Jeremy Lafaver was suspended for the next six Cup events, and the team was penalized 50 points too. NASCAR said the violation was that the engine exhaust valves were lighter than rules allow.
   NASCAR's Robin Pemberton said of Bowyer's car "We haven't had a penalty like this in a while. Two years ago, by the Red Bull team. And that was 150-point penalty."
   NASCAR's John Darby indicated the location of the body on the car's frame was the issue. Before NASCAR became so stringent with its rules, teams would routinely move the bodies around on the chassis in order to gain a handling or aerodynamic edge.
   "It revolves around the body of the car located on the frame in three coordinates....." Darby said. "But the team can appeal. So to get into the details wouldn't be fair."

   Clint Bowyer and champagne....which soured as the week went on (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Childress issued a brief statement saying he would appeal the penalty and blaming the questioned off-settings on bumps from the wrecker that push the out-of-gas car into victory lane.
   "I'd like to apologize to our sponsors, our fans and everyone at RCR for the situation that has resulted from this ruling," Childress said, pointing out that his company "has a long-standing reputation of integrity on and off the race track. We pride ourselves on working within the rules established by the sanctioning body.
"We feel certain 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.
   "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 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.
   "NASCAR informed us after the Richmond race that we were very close to their maximum tolerances (with Bowyer's Richmond car). 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.
   "I am confident we fixed the area of concern, and the New Hampshire car left the race shop well within the tolerances required by NASCAR."

I think part of the ratings

I think part of the ratings problem is related to people dropping cable TV. NASCAR needs to gravitate back to network TV and ultimately figure out how to get it's internet broadcast rights back from Turner.

certainly an excellent point

certainly an excellent point on internet broadcast rights....that is a sore point among many media outlets, and it's a major mistake by Nascar, in signing a contract like that -- short-sighted.
but i dont know about ratings falling because of people dropping cable. maybe so, but that should be easily documented somewhere along the line. i'll try to check it out for you.

The penalty is garbage! The

The penalty is garbage! The car passed several inspections all weekend. Suddenly, after the race, the body is mounted wrong?! Bull!
I don't know what NASCAR's motivation is here. Incompetence? Arrogance? Do they just not know how to measure, or do they have it in for Childress?
Most troubling is the lack of transparency. When other sports penalize competitors, they explain & demonstrate the violation to the audience. Replays are televised. Allegations of off-field misconduct are investigated by the media and/or law enforcement bodies. NASCAR gives us none of this. They won't show us the car or demonstrate how it was measured. They won't even tell us what the exact violation is. What a load of crap! How can anyone take the "sport" seriously?

i agree with each of your

i agree with each of your points, and after following the evolution of this controversy over the past few days, i have to question nascar's handling of the entire situation. first, nascar's at-track inspections should be -- and appear to me -- to be so thorough and exacting that any significant 'cheating' or illegality should be easily and quickly uncovered. for nascar officials to hem and haw for a couple of days about 'questions' about bowyer's richmond car, more than a week after that race, is very curious. and how did nascar let what it claims to be so egregious a violation as this to slip through the numerous pre-race inspections at Loudon? i understand nascar is trying to be exacting and fair in all this, but common sense says if you can't find something wrong at the track, how can you come back later and pull penalties like these.
so the 100,000 fans at New Hampshire Motor Speedway thought they saw some heart-warming win by an underdog....and what they really missed was some now-seemingly major faux pas in one of nascar's many pre-race inspection stations.
nascar's credibility took a big hit in all this. and why wont nascar officials lay out precisely what they say was wrong with bowyer's car? i find that extremely disturbing.
and all this happens in the first race of the playoffs -- no wonder tv ratings are off....

RCR cheated and is paying the

RCR cheated and is paying the price but not to the proper extent. In most sports, participants caught cheating or breaking the rules have any victory stripped away; why does NASCAR continue to take the illogical approach that a victory gained through cheating is still a win? The point penalty somewhat fixes the competitive result in terms of the Chase standings but Bowyer ultimately still benefits by having a win in the books that his team took away from another team. Perhaps the issue of NASCAR's response to cheating and the low TV ratings are related; after all, NASCAR claims to be a legitimate sport and invites TV viewers to buy into the concept but when a cheating team somehow remains the winning team, then there is going to be skepticism and TV viewers will continue to turn to something else.

i would like to have more

i would like to have more information before coming to any conclusion on all this....but nascar must think the childress team did something very bad for the sanctioning body to react like this. so why cant fans get a clear picture -- literally -- of the parts or pieces in question, so we can decide ourselves. show us the beef.
i agree that it is highly illogical, philosophically, for nascar to find a car 'illegal' and yet let the win stand, ostensibly because the fans need to leave the track knowing they've seen the 'winner.' that's so 1970s....somebody needs to wake up. this whole controversy isn't good for the sport, and doesnt appear to be handled very well.

The 11 and the 48 were both

The 11 and the 48 were both found to be too high directly after the Loudon race. The let both car sit for a few minutes, and then they both passed inspection. Bowyer's car passed post race, and then upon further review, failed. I'm no Bowyer fan, and they may very well have cheated. But it sounds like the 33 wasn't as creative with their cheating as the 11 and 48.

I know the car passed all pre

I know the car passed all pre race inspections...but could something have been done between the last "pre race inspection" and the actual race? Could it have been the 33 team never dreamed they would win the race and so they weren't worried the car would be inspected after the race? I just don't know. With such a tiny tolerance infraction one would think a slight bump, knock, push, or shove during the race could make the difference in the before and after race measurements. I just don't know. I DO KNOW I have always disliked the way they give the winner penalties, as in this case, but let them keep the win. Sorry..either you won fair and square....(or weren't caught cheating let's say) or you cheated and you didn't win! You can't have it both ways...so I say take away the win and be done with it.

Wonder how General Mills

Wonder how General Mills feels today, you get your first win then you find your car may have cheated to get there. RCR maybe you are reaping what you sowed with the way you have went after lesser teams sponsors in the past. RCR you were warned the week before, given a second chance. Even told the car would be taken back to the R&D Center and checked again. Of course it was the wrecker and taps by others congratulating you on the win. You could have saved that gas used during the burn out to get back to victory lane so the wrecker would not have knocked your body out of tolerance. Congratulations to Cheerios on the "win".

Sorry, I just don't buy into

Sorry, I just don't buy into NASCAR's explanation of all this. If the car was fine in inspections all weekend, why did it take them until Tuesday to decide this? With all of the beating and banging around on the track, how can the specs on the car be that close and not get pushed around?

The chase is just NOT that interesting to fans. I watch the races, I don't care about this contrived 10 race trophy deal. We were in NH and it was a very enjoyable race, but I probably wouldn't have watched it on TV - the weather is too nice this time of the year and the broadcasts are too broken up with commercials and ESPN crap to waste an entire Sunday.

As far as ratings go NASCAR

As far as ratings go NASCAR will probably tweak the Chase rules next year to be "top 12 after 26 races plus Dale Jr. no matter where he is in the standings".

The only thing surprising about the Bowyer penalty is that they did not award his 150 points to Jimmie Johnson.

"As far as ratings go NASCAR

"As far as ratings go NASCAR will probably tweak the Chase rules next year to be "top 12 after 26 races plus Dale Jr. no matter where he is in the standings".

LMAO. I've been saying that for several years. I truly believe the increase to 12 teams in the Chase from the former 10 was solely to give Jr. a better chance to get in. Since he can't make the Top 12, I guess they'll have to explore other options. After the crappy TV ratings at New Hampshire, the conspiracy theorist in me has me thinking that NASCAR is truly wondering "how can we make Jr. a Champion to get some good TV ratings". The fact that Jr. has not made the Chase with Hendrick makes me think that NASCAR actually has some integrity, or there is a major documentary coming about "The Fall and Rise of Jr.".

I disagree on Decklid's

I disagree on Decklid's assessment that NASCAR has it in for Childress, because NASCAR was in bed heavily with him during the Dale Sr. years. This is more of a story of NASCAR's ridiculous inspection rules and their assessments and also a lack of transparancy. They're lack of telling anyone of the actual infraction would be like an NFL official throwing a flag that nullified a game winning TD and the official not telling anyone why it was thrown. Childress is acting like this was solely because a wrecker bumped the rear of the car in pushing to victory lane, but NASCAR has used the word "manipulation" in some of their quotes, and that has nothing to do with getting bumped. Before I call Boyer and Childress cheaters, I want to know exactly what they did. NASCAR is acting like the KGB per their usual routine, so getting any facts and truth out of them is not likely. I wish you success in getting to the bottom of this, Mike.

Nascar's use of "actions

Nascar's use of "actions detrimental to the sport" to define any and all infractions is what bothers me! Certainly .060" cannot be so drastic as to deserve this kind of penalty! This reeks of the horrible decision handed down to Carl Long for his "oversized engine"! Nascar's credibility is sinking about as fast as President Obama's popularity!

According to Dr. Diandra

According to Dr. Diandra Leslie-Pelecky, all Cup chassis must be certified at the R&D center prior to having bodies hung on them. Bowyer's car fit the pre race templates in the "room of doom" and fit the post race templates as well. 3 days later, at the R&D Center, the left rear quarter is found to be .060" too high. I think I figured out what happened: during a pit stop, the body shop crew was called in to cut off the left rear quarter, move it up .060", weld it back on, bondo it, paint it and apply vinyl graphics! It passed the post race inspection because the tire guys dropped the left rear presure to 5 pounds! Mystery solved! I've been a Nascar fan since 1963, but I'm getting tired of their inconsistency with penalties, rule changes and favoritism! Bounce back RCR and win this stupid "Chase"!

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