Sprint Cup: What Does NASCAR's Penalty on Clint Bowyer Mean for the Chase?

Chaz SuretteCorrespondent ISeptember 23, 2010

LOUDON, NH - SEPTEMBER 19:  Clint Bowyer, driver of the #33 Cheerios / Hamburger Helper Chevrolet, races during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 19, 2010 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

This week, NASCAR imposed some of the toughest penalties in its history on Clint Bowyer, docking him 150 points and suspending his crew chief, Shane Wilson, for six races, as well as fining Wilson $150,000. Details are still sketchy as of this writing, but it seems that NASCAR apparently wasn't satisfied with the position of the body of the car on the frame.

“It revolves on how the body of the car is located on the frame in all three coordinates—x, y and z—which is fore-and-aft [front-and-back], left-to-right and up-and-down,” Sprint Cup Series Director of Competition John Darby was quoted as saying.

This is the second week in a row that Bowyer has faced tougher scrutiny from NASCAR officials. Two weeks ago at Richmond, officials stated that Bowyer's car was only barely within the limits of NASCAR's specifications.

Richard Childress, owner of Clint Bowyer's No. 33 Chevrolet as well as the No. 29 of Kevin Harvick (second in points) and the No. 31 of Jeff Burton (ninth in points) has stated he will be appealing the penalties.

After his victory this past Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Bowyer had rocketed up to second in points, only 35 points behind points leader Denny Hamlin. Bowyer now sits in 12th place, 185 points back. RCR teammate Harvick now sits second behind Hamlin.

After Sunday's dominating performance, Bowyer looked poised to make run for the championship. After the penalties, Bowyer is out of the hunt for now, with early Chase favorites Hamlin and Harvick back on top. Look for these two to capitalize on Bowyer's woes and start their last push for the Cup.

It also opens the door for Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon (third and fourth in points, respectively) to turn up the heat on the two leaders. Busch has three victories this year, while Gordon has none. Many have speculated that Gordon has been waiting for his opportunity to make a run. Sitting only 75 points back of Hamlin, it may be Gordon's best chance to vie for his fifth Cup championship.

What about Jimmie Johnson? The four-time champion has struggled of late, including a 25th place finish at Loudon. But remember, the last three months of the season is Johnson time. He consistently performs well down the stretch, so look for Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus to turn it up in the remaining nine races. However, Johnson will face stiffer competition this year, making the 2010 Chase for the Sprint Cup very interesting.