Ingram's Flat Spot On
NASCAR Leaves Childress Seeing Red
by Jonathan Ingram
As long as there's major league motor racing, there's going to be big time donnybrooks over the rules.
Just when NASCAR's laser-guided technology appeared to have eliminated problems such as rear bodywork offsets, Clint Bowyer, the winner of the first race of The Chase, gets tossed in the points because his Cheerios Chevy was 0.060 inches outside of the x, y and z axis.
While its traditional to defend the drivers and teams versus seemingly arbitrary rules enforcement by the sanctioning body, there are some other underlying questions. Was it only Bowyer's car among the three entries from Richard Childress and RCR Racing that had a "unique" rear end?
The problem initially raised its head at Richmond a week earlier, when the measurements weren't quite right in the final qualifying round for The Chase on the RCR Chevy entry of Bowyer. The team was warned about the problem and told to remedy it.
At New Hampshire, was the offset discovered in an extensive post-race inspection the reason why Bowyer ran away and hid from the field much of the race? Was the ability to get offsets through inspection the reason for the sudden turnaround in the RCR team's fortunes throughout 2010, which saw Kevin Harvick score three wins in the "regular season" and lead the points while Jeff Burton and Bowyer both made The Chase?
That's another underlying problem: NASCAR didn't catch the violation on Bowyer's car prior to the race at New Hampshire. Had officials forced Bowyer to a backup car, then the controversy would have been minimal -- and the message to all competitors clear on the issue of trying to skirt tolerances during inspection.
Instead, half the universe, at least, will believe team owner Childress and his explanation that the congratulatory rear bumper banging and a push to Victory Lane by a tow truck, took the car into "the red zone" of NASCAR's measurement system.
A defiant and unhappy Childress has declared there will be an appeal -- to satisfy disgruntled sponsors and to try to make NASCAR look like the bad guys. The appeal will rest heavily on the fact the car, newly built for the New Hampshire race, made it through inspection prior to the race less than a week after the NASCAR officials had noticed a similar problem at Richmond, theoretically putting them on "red alert."
NASCAR is likely to win the appeal, because it has so much influence in the courtroom. Pitches over the issue of why the team didn't get a fair shake in pre-race inspection, or why the car had to be taken to the NASCAR Research and Development Center for a post-race measurement might win the hearts and minds of a 12-person jury of peers. But the business of motor racing always utilizes observers associated with the sanctioning body on appeals boards, however lacking in independence they might be.
I just hope the discussion with NASCAR's three-person appeals board puts some focus on how a car can make it through pre-race inspections but not the post-race exam. Was there a methodology at work by RCR to slip one by officials just like in the old days of lead-filled helmets left in cars to throw off the scales at weigh-in?
At least one thing is certain: It is no longer honorable in major league motor racing to find a way to get a car through the same inspection as other teams and get an advantage that doesn't fall within the rules.
That may be progress, but in a situation like this it's the fans who don't get a fair shake. Four days after the well-hailed victory of Bowyer, his bright yellow Cheerios Chevy and a brilliant opening round to The Chase, there are broken eggs everywhere.
The questions will continue to nag: what about Harvick and his yellow Shell/Pennzoil Chevy? He moved up to second in the points after the draconian penalty to Bowyer.
If points leader Denny Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs Racing FedEx Toyota get caught once, will they be given a mulligan like Bowyer at Richmond -- and steal at least one race from the competition?
Jimmie Johnson's Lowe's Chevy was on the borderline of the "red zone" after winning at Dover last year, but received a warning before going on to win a fourth straight Sprint Cup championship for Hendrick Motorsports.
All the top teams are close to the tolerances with the COT chassis, in part because their precision car-building skills are what make them top teams. Until Nov. 21 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, I'd bet against anybody bringing a car that ends up in NASCAR's "red zone" to the remaining nine races of the season. It will be interesting to see how Harvick, the pick here to win The Chase (before it started), stacks up over the span of these last nine races. He's not only got a lot to win, but a lot to prove as well.
Jonathan Ingram can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.