Charlotte, N.C. — Clint Bowyer’s slim shot at winning the Sprint Cup championship in Michael Waltrip Racing’s final season took a huge hit Wednesday when NASCAR penalized the team for an infraction in the opening playoff race.
NASCAR said the No. 15 team had parts not properly installed on its Toyota during the opening inspection Friday at Chicagoland Speedway.
Bowyer was docked 25 points, dropping him to last in the 16-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field. Crew chief Billy Scott was fined $75,000 and suspended for the next three races, and placed on probation for six months.
There are two races remaining in the opening round of the Chase before four drivers will be cut from the 16-driver field.
MWR immediately appealed, and NASCAR has asked the appeals officer to expedite the process. The team said in a statement it “respectfully disagrees,” with the penalties.
“MWR has made mistakes in the past, but we feel we are correct in this instance,” the team said. “We look forward to the opportunity to present our case to the appeals committee and have no further public comment until the process is completed.”
Should MWR not succeed in having the penalty reduced or overturned, defending NASCAR champion Kevin Harvick will gain a spot in the standings without having even raced. Harvick was last in the 16-driver field after he crashed Sunday at Chicagoland.
Bowyer already was a longshot to advance out of the first round of the Chase and legitimately contend for the title. He was one of the final drivers to qualify for the Chase in what’s been a below-average year for the driver, and he was an uncompetitive 19th in the opening race.
Still, he’s been determined to put together a strong close to the season for his team, which learned last month that MWR will close its shop after the Nov. 22 finale. Bowyer has been released from his contract, which had two more years remaining on the deal, and will likely have a new job for 2016 to announce in the next few weeks.
Many of his team members, as well as the majority of MWR’s organization, are scrambling to line up jobs as two cars are dropping off the grid next season.
The team has had its issues from its 2007 launch, when owner Michal Waltrip was found to have jet fuel in his engine in the days before the season-opening Daytona 500. The team was also embroiled in a 2013 cheating scandal when NASCAR found it manipulated the end of the regular-season finale in an effort to get Martin Truex Jr. into the Chase.
The sanctions were severe, Truex was kicked out of the Chase field, and sponsor NAPA ultimately left the team. MWR was forced to let go a portion of its workforce and the team has never fully recovered.