Harvick loses automatic NASCAR championship berth

Harvick loses Championship 4 spot after penalty			Image by Kinrade  LAT

Miller said the spoiler did not conform to the CAD file that NASCAR had for the part.

As the victor Sunday, Harvick's auto was one of the vehicles taken back to NASCAR R&D Center for further inspection. That led officials to further examine it after returning to the NASCAR Research and Development Center in North Carolina.

The decision dramatically changes the look of the playoffs, nearing the finish.

Harvick was docked 40 driver points, and Stewart-Haas Racing was docked 40 owner points as well.

Harvick's win at Texas was his series-leading eighth of the year and qualified him for Homestead along with Joey Logano.

Harvick enters this week's race at Phoenix, the last before Miami, fourth among the eight playoff racers. Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer are all below the cutline and likely need to win at Phoenix to advance. Chase Elliott trails Harvick by 17 points. As part of the penalty, Harvick can not use the win at TMS in a tiebreaker. Those penalties also include the suspensions of crew chief Rodney Childers and auto chief Robert "Cheddar" Smith for the remaining two races of the 2018 season and a $75,000 fine for Childers.

NASCAR has tried a number of ways to deter the most egregious types of rule-breaking, mostly through fines, suspensions or forfeiture of points.

Saying that "I think we're getting into borderline ridiculous territory", with violations, NASCAR's Scott Miller said Wednesday night that the sanctioning body is considering stiffer penalties next year for cars that fail inspection. "Instead, we will direct our immediate focus to this weekend's event in Phoenix and control our destiny on the race track". However, NASCAR believes the No. 4 team actually manufactured its own spoiler and passed it off as the standard one - except the illegal spoiler was offset to the right in relation to the center of the vehicle, which was "definitely (an) aerodynamic performance (advantage)", Miller said. Gibson has been a crew chief for seven racers overall, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mark Martin and Danica Patrick. Harvick has won nine times there in the Cup Series over the course of his career including this season's March race.

ISM Raceway in Phoenix represents Harvick's best chance to get a win that would guarantee his spot in the championship race. Once the Harvick violation was discovered late Tuesday, NASCAR had to examine whether the violation was correct and didn't release its findings until the next day - two days before Harvick and his interim crew chief and vehicle chief will practice at Phoenix.

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