Clint Bowyer's car flunked inspection and few around the garage are buying his alibi. Bowyer is sticking to his story. He gave a defiant defense of his Chase-opening victory on Friday, saying he "wouldn't cheat" to win a race after his car failed a followup inspection. If anything should be blamed for the infraction, he told the media, it's a tow truck. "We have a lot more integrity for myself and our race team at RCR," Bowyer said. Richard Childress, his team owner, was united with his driver in blaming a wrecker for wrecking Bowyer's championship run. The defense: The wrecker hit the rear bumper when it pushed the No. 33 car into the winner's circle at New Hampshire. "I don't think anyone could look us square in the face and say without a shadow of a doubt that the wrecker couldn't have moved that car sixty-thousandths" of an inch, Childress said.
Bowyer, 31, said he's looking for answers about why NASCAR levied harsh penalties against him that crippled his chances at winning the Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship. Bowyer was penalized 150 points after Sunday's win at New Hampshire and fell from second to 12th in the standings, though he is appealing the ruling.
NASCAR also fined crew chief Shane Wilson $150,000 and suspended him for six races, car chief Chad Haney was suspended six races and Childress was docked 150 owner points. Wilson was at the track Friday because the penalties are under appeal, set for next week.
Bowyer said his team was "triple sure" his car was legal after receiving a warning from NASCAR following the previous race at Richmond.
Other drivers weren't so sure.
Points leader Denny Hamlin, who starts fourth Sunday at Dover, blasted Bowyer's illegal car. Hamlin was runnerup last week and said he knew he had "the fastest legal car," and that there was no way the push of a tow truck could flunk a car at inspection.
"They're just trying to salvage their season, basically, and they're going to do everything they can," said Hamlin, who has a 45-point lead over Kevin Harvick — instead of Bowyer — for second with nine races left in the Chase.
NASCAR said the No. 33 Chevrolet from Sunday's race had been altered and did not meet specifications. Childress said he wouldn't be "dumb enough" to bring an illegal car shortly after the warning at Richmond.
Bowyer's car passed an initial inspection at New Hampshire on Sunday, but it was taken by NASCAR back to its North Carolina research and development center for a more thorough exam.
Bowyer said it's all the more puzzling that NASCAR believes the team would knowingly try to gain an advantage.
Hamlin didn't buy the explanation.
"Everyone's known it for months," he said. "They've been warned, way before Richmond."
Hamlin wasn't the only driver who backed NASCAR's decision.
Kurt Busch: "Was it from the wrecker pushing it back to Victory Lane? No."
Four-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson: "There is zero tolerance."
"It's an odd circumstance," said the third RCR driver, Jeff Burton, who is also in the Chase. "I'm not questioning NASCAR's measuring abilities, but the intent was certainly to be 100 percent legal. There is a circumstance that's odd there."
Greg Biffle, another Chase driver, may have summed up the week best.
"Whoever cheats the best wins," Biffle said to laughter. "That the old saying, right?"
. fast facts
Sprint Cup points
With nine races to go. Only these drivers are eligible in the Chase for the Championship.
Driver Pts. Back
Denny Hamlin 5,230—
Kevin Harvick 5,185 45
Kyle Busch 5,168 62
Jeff Gordon 5,155 75
Kurt Busch 5,144 86
Jimmie Johnson 5,138 92
Carl Edwards 5,135 95
Greg Biffle 5,122 108
Jeff Burton 5,118 112
Tony Stewart 5,106 124
Matt Kenseth 5,094 136
Clint Bowyer 5,045 185
AAA 400, 1 p.m. Sunday, Dover (Del.) International Speedway TV: ESPN