Harvick’s car had a noticeably bowed-in rear window throughout much of the race and many wondered if that dip was aerodynamically advantageous, allowing more air to hit Harvick’s spoiler and providing him better grip in the corners.
His crew chief, Rodney Childers, said earlier in the week that the dip was due to a parts failure and probably didn’t help the car. It was a plausible argument, especially considering that Harvick dominated a week earlier at Atlanta without any noticeable dips in the rear window of his Atlanta car.
But NASCAR isn’t in the business of judging intent and notably added this explanation to the penalty for Harvick and his team.
Rear Window Support Braces must keep the rear window glass rigid in all directions at all times. The Right Side Rocker Panel Extension did not meet NASCAR rule specifications, extension was not aluminum.
The first sentence can be easily explained as a parts failure that was out of the team’s control. The second, notsomuch. If something did fail, as Childers said, then NASCAR sure thinks it was because of something that didn’t meet its standards.
In addition to the 20 points, which knocks Harvick out of the points lead, Childers was fined $50,000 and car chief Robert Smith was suspended for the next two races. And most importantly, Harvick doesn’t get to use the seven points he accumulated throughout the race (five for the win, one for each stage win) during the playoffs.
The playoff points for the stage and race wins are by far the most important aspect of the penalty. As Martin Truex Jr. showed a year ago, accumulating playoff points en masse can provide a hell of a cushion throughout the first three rounds of the playoffs.
Harvick was already building a cushion like Truex’s. With the Vegas playoff points, Harvick had 13 playoff points through three races. He now has six.
And as we said in the headline of this post, there is an upshot to the penalty, even if Harvick has seven fewer playoff points than he had on Tuesday.
That upside is simple: No one else has the playoff points Harvick lost. Since NASCAR isn’t in the business of officially taking wins away from penalized teams that visit victory lane, no one directly benefits from Harvick’s penalty. The seven points he earned and lost disappear into the ether and aren’t distributed to the drivers who finished second to him at the race’s three endpoints.
Harvick’s six playoff points are still the most of anyone in the Cup Series and the driver closest to him (Austin Dillon, with five) isn’t going to be a serious challenger for the title. Unlike Joey Logano a year ago at Richmond, Harvick was already a virtual lock for the playoffs entering Vegas and the penalty only effects his potential playoff advantage, not his presence in them.
Logano’s penalty was debilitating. He missed the playoffs entirely. Harvick and the No. 4 team can shrug this penalty off and head to a track where they finish in the top five with disturbing regularity.
We’ll find out in September and October just how much Harvick will miss those seven points he lost on Wednesday. But since no one else has them and his team is already able to focus on the postseason, the impacts of this penalty are far lesser than they could be.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.