DOVER, Del. | Clint Bowyer arrived at the Dover International Speedway media center on Friday armed with a crumpled page from a yellow legal pad with notes he prepared during a sleepless night.
But first, he spoke from the heart.
“I wouldn't cheat to win a race in this sport,” Bowyer said emphatically.
NASCAR penalized Bowyer and owner Richard Childress 150 points this week after his team that won last Sunday’s opening race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup at New Hampshire failed inspection.
The massive penalty dropped Bowyer from second in the standings to last among the 12 drivers in the Chase, essentially killing his championship hopes going into Sunday’s race at Dover.
"I'm angry,” Bowyer said. “I don't believe that we did anything wrong. I'll go on record and say that, first and foremost I want my fans to know that.”
Richard Childress Racing has said it will contest the ruling, and the appeal will be heard next week by a three-person NASCAR board.
“All I’m going to ask for is a fair appeal,” Childress said. “In the history of RCR, we’ve maybe had three appeals didn’t win any of them.”
Bowyer, whose father owns a towing business in Emporia and says he knows “a little something about wreckers”, is convinced the car’s being out of tolerance by 60-thousandths of an inch was caused by the tow truck that took it from the track to Victory Lane.
Bowyer, to make his point, held up a quarter.
“Sixty-thousandths of an inch, folks,” Bowyer said. “Grab a quarter out of your pocket. That's sixty-five thousandths of an inch thick. Less than the thickness of that quarter right there resulted in a 150-point fine. Ask yourself if that was a performance-enhancing thing right there.
“I don’t think the punishment fits the crime.”
Ramsey Poston, managing director of corporate communications for NASCAR, said if the tow-truck argument is part of the appeal, “We’ll be prepared to respond to that. We have seen a lot of cars that have been hit in the back .”
Several drivers, including points leader Denny Hamlin, who finished second to Bowyer at New Hampshire, took issue, and, in fact, said it was common knowledge in the garages “for months” that RCR cars were bending the rules, if not outright cheating.
“You can talk about how small the thing was off, and you can really try to say that 60-thousandths didn’t help him perform better -- that’s a crock,” Hamlin said. “That helps a lot. I know when we gain five points of downforce our car runs a ton better.”
NASCAR had warned the 33 team the previous week that the car was close to an infraction after Bowyer nailed down the 12th spot in the Chase with a sixth-place finish at Richmond.
“NASCAR has been very lenient on this car, and they’ve given those guys chances,” Hamlin said. “I think they should just be happy they’re in the Chase at this point. They were warned before Richmond.
"Everyone in the garage knows that. They’re the ones who wanted to press the issue and get all they could to make sure they got in the Chase.
“What did they have to lose, really? You almost can’t fault them for that. They got in, and then they were busted.”
To Bowyer, the fact his team had been warned the previous week made it all the more imperative to make sure the car was within specifications at New Hampshire.
“We were told by NASCAR they were taking the car after New Hampshire, no matter what; first or 43rd,” Bowyer said. “The car passed pre- and post-race inspections at the racetrack. After being told that they were taking the car, we made double-sure before it went to New Hampshire that that car was right.
“Who in their right mind, knowing that they're going to take that car, wouldn't have made triple sure that thing was right before it went to the racetrack? I could have hit the wall doing a burnout, I could have done a lot of things that other drivers have done and that other teams have done in a post-race celebration this year.
“The car passed pre- and post-race inspection, and three days later get such a huge fine? They take the car apart, completely apart to measure this thing and in my opinion that's not the way the car was raced on the racetrack.”
Bowyer believes NASCAR made an example out of his car.
“If this thing was knocked out a half of an inch, I could see something being done,” Bowyer said. “But if it passed the height sticks afterwards, the very height sticks the No. 48 (Jimmie Johnson) and the No. 11 (Hamlin) did not pass, then miraculously enough when that same pit crew pushed it back around after 20 minutes it passed, that was pretty amazing. You know it passed those same sticks.”
Johnson, whose crew chief, Chad Knaus, has been suspended in the past for rules violations, had little sympathy for Bowyer.
“NASCAR has made it very clear, to us with what we experienced and then as the Car of Tomorrow has come along, that there is zero tolerance,” said Johnson, the four-time defending Sprint Cup champion. “It doesn’t matter if it's only the thickness of a quarter. They don’t care.
“I hate that the No. 33 is in the position but NASCAR has to be consistent with what they do. Zero tolerance is zero tolerance. There is no ‘I’m sorry, you are close’. It is black and white. Cars that are made of steel that can get bumped around for whatever reason, contact on track, a tow truck, a push truck, whatever it is, you have to leave yourself some room to be on the right side of the line.”