NASCAR issued a 150-point penalty to Clint Bowyer's No. 33 team and suspended crew chief Shane Wilson for six races on Wednesday afternoon, saying that Bowyer's winning car at New Hampshire was built illegally.
Officials offered few details on the exact infraction, but said the body of the car was built beyond the legal tolerances for NASCAR's tightly controlled new car.
Here are some questions and answers about the news today:
Does this have anything to do with the "warning" Bowyer's team received after Richmond?
While officials said the severity of the penalty was unrelated to the news that Bowyer's team was warned about being close to crossing the line after Richmond, NASCAR's Robin Pemberton said the New Hampshire infraction occurred in the "same area" of the car.
Of course, this might lead to conspiracy theories that Bowyer's team prepared the car in a similar way at Richmond and NASCAR was hesitant to pull the trigger on a penalty that would knock Bowyer out of the Chase field.
But Pemberton said the Richmond car was deemed to be legal – close to the line, but legal – and that the New Hampshire car was built beyond the allowed specifications.
NASCAR works with teams when they get close to committing a violation (such as Hendrick Motorsports last year). The difference here, officials said, was that while Hendrick immediately came back to the track with corrected cars, Bowyer's Richard Childress Racing team did not.
What does this mean for Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton? Is it likely their cars were illegal, too?
NASCAR said the previous RCR cars that have come through its Research and Development Center for a thorough postrace inspection have passed with no issues.
Though it's possible a team would build all of its cars the same way, there's no evidence that occurred in this case.
How did Bowyer's car pass pre-race and post-race inspection at the track but fail three days later?
NASCAR's John Darby said there are two different kinds of inspection. At the track, NASCAR is looking for body violations such as not fitting the template and height sticks. But once the car is back at the R&D Center, officials can take a more three-dimensional view of the car and determine if it was built to specifications.
In this case, Bowyer's car was found to have crossed the line.
What kind of performance advantage did Bowyer's team gain by committing the infraction?
That's unclear, but NASCAR's Robin Pemberton noted "it's not for us to decide" what kind of advantage Bowyer's team gained. And he's right: NASCAR isn't responsible for determining if Bowyer's infraction helped the team win the race or not; the sanctioning body only has a responsibility to decide if Bowyer's car was outside the rules.
Ultimately, NASCAR felt it had enough evidence to determine Bowyer crossed the line.
Why didn't NASCAR take away the win if Bowyer's car was illegal?
NASCAR, as a general rule, doesn't take away victories in the three major series. Officials reiterated their stance that such a massive points penalty is even worse than stripping a team of the win and giving it to someone else.
Indeed, Bowyer's team loses its crew chief and car chief for six weeks apiece, and the points penalty is crushing.
What does this do to Bowyer's Chase chances?
They're destroyed. Bowyer went from second in the standings after New Hampshire – a darkhorse to win the whole thing – to a 12th-place driver missing key team members with a huge deficit to powerful contenders. He can't win it now.
Did NASCAR do this for publicity in light of sagging ratings?
No. NASCAR's research has shown that fans don't like penalties and don't want them to decide the outcome of the Chase or any part of the season.
NASCAR, as controlling as it is, doesn't issue penalties with pleasure or joy. That's why officials have tried to stamp out cheating ever since the 2007 crackdown, after which penalties have been escalated ever since.
Pemberton said if teams continue to cheat – it's worth noting there hadn't been this kind of infraction in a couple years – the penalties could go as high as 200 points or more.
Was this the right decision by NASCAR or was this unfair to a Chase team?
If Bowyer's car was built beyond NASCAR's tolerances, then absolutely. Whether a team crosses the line by a lot or a little, it should be punished if it's outside the rules.
Pushing the envelope has always been a part of racing; but so has getting caught.
It's a shame that such a promising Chase run with a different face was snuffed out. But in this case, Bowyer's team apparently pushed NASCAR's limits beyond what was acceptable and forced officials to act.