CHARLOTTE, N.C. >> Ryan Newman's championship hopes were dealt a blow Wednesday when NASCAR docked him 15 points before the final qualifying race for the playoffs.
Newman was already on the outside of the 16-driver field and trailed Jamie McMurray for the final spot by seven points. He is now 22 points behind McMurray after the penalty for failing post-race inspection at Darlington Raceway on Sunday night.
The Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field will be set Saturday night after the regular-season finale at Richmond International Raceway.
There are currently three available spots in the Chase field, assuming Chris Buescher finishes Richmond ranked 30th or higher in the standings. Buescher qualified for the Chase with a win at rain-shortened Pocono, but he's got to remain inside the top 30 to be eligible for the playoffs.
Buescher has an 11-point lead over 31st-place. If he drops a position, a fourth spot would become open in the Chase field. The three drivers currently in position to make the Chase are Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon and McMurray. Newman would need to pass one of them in the standings to overcome the penalty.
In addition to the points deduction, NASCAR also fined Newman crew chief Luke Lambert $25,000.
NASCAR on Wednesday also docked 15 points from Kyle Larson, but he's already qualified for the Chase based on his victory at Michigan. Chad Johnston, his crew chief, was fined $22,500 because the car failed post-race inspection.
Newman has been an interesting participant in the Chase the last two years because he's used consistent finishes to advance through the elimination rounds rather than wins. Newman has not won a race since 2013, but he mathematically figured out a way to advance to the 2014 championship finale and finished second in the standings.
It was an improbable showing that defied NASCAR's desire to put a greater emphasis on winning.
Newman again went winless last year, but again threatened to advance deep into the playoffs. He was ultimately knocked out after the second round of eliminations and he finished 11th in the final standings.
He's been on the Chase bubble before, and in 2013 had to win the race at Richmond to make the Chase. He was leading when Clint Bowyer intentionally spun to set off a chain of events that cost Newman the race and allowed Bowyer's teammate at the time, Martin Truex Jr., to win the race and claim the final spot in the Chase.
NASCAR was rocked by the manipulation scandal and kicked Truex out of the Chase in favor of Newman. The elimination format did not exist in 2013 and Newman finished 11th that season.
Notes: NASCAR did not issue any penalties surrounding the finish in the Truck Series race at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. John Hunter Nemechek used an aggressive move on Cole Custer to nudge Custer from the lead, and the two drivers raced door-to-door through the grass to the finish line. As NASCAR tried to sort the finishing order, Nemechek went to the flag stand to take the checkered flag. Custer then ran and tackled Nemechek in the grass.