Two major Nationwide Series race teams, whose drivers include points leader Elliott Sadler and third-place Austin Dillon, are expected to receive penalties from NASCAR today that could change the face of this season's championship battle.
Sadler currently leads 2011 Nationwide Series champ Ricky Stenhouse Jr. by two points in a tight race, with Dillon 23 points back in third.
But if NASCAR issues severe penalties later today – which is possible after officials ruled the front upper bumper covers for all three Richard Childress Racing cars and all three Turner Motorsports cars were illegally modified at Richmond – then the battle for the points lead would turn dramatically.
In addition to Sadler and Dillon, Turner's Justin Allgaier (seventh in the point standings), could also see his title chances suffer a significant blow.
During Thursday's pre-race inspection at Richmond, officials noticed the upper bumper covers on six cars did not conform to the proper standards.
In the Nationwide Series rulebook, Section 20A-3.10 says "cutting and reshaping of bumper covers will not be permitted" unless authorized by the series director. Obviously, NASCAR felt the bumper covers were improperly reshaped, because officials made all six teams cut the covers off and put new ones on.
While the rulebook does not state what exactly the penalty will be for such infractions, it could potentially be similar to the Sprint Cup Series penalty Jimmie Johnson received, which included suspensions and the loss of 25 driver points.
Sadler said Friday the team was "caught by surprise" when NASCAR informed the group it would have to cut the noses off the car at Richmond.
"It's the same car I've ran twice already this year, so it's been through pre-race inspections and it's been through post-race tear-downs, because we won both races with it," Sadler said.
Even more confusing, he said, is the car passed technical inspection at Richmond – all the templates fit with no issues – but NASCAR later came over to the team when the car was back at the team's hauler and informed it of the violations with no warning.
"I think it was an eye test – they didn't like the visual part of it," Sadler said. "We haven't gotten that far getting an explanation yet. This is the third time we've raced this car, and we haven't really done anything but wipe it down. NASCAR asked us to cut it off, we cut it off."
RCR does not have a technical alliance with Turner, though both teams field Chevrolets. Therefore, the modifications on the bumper covers may not have been the same for each team.
Sadler said the team would "wait and see" what happens today, but said RCR wasn't waiting to hear the result of the penalty decision. The organization decided to be proactive by cutting the noses off all six of its Talladega cars (three primaries and three backups) because the bumper covers were designed the same way as the ones at Richmond.
"All I ask for is when we get to Talladega, everybody better be right," Sadler said. "That's all I ask – just treat everybody the same way."