CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kevin Harvick’s bid for a second NASCAR title suffered a massive setback when he was stripped of his berth in the championship race after series inspectors found his winning car from Texas Motor Speedway had been deliberately altered to give him a performance advantage.

NASCAR said Wednesday night it believes Harvick’s spoiler was intentionally offset to the right to give the Ford an aerodynamic advantage when he drove through the corners at Texas. NASCAR can’t prove if Stewart-Haas Racing made its own spoiler or altered one from its manufacturer, but senior vice president of competition Scott Miller said the penalty is the same in either case.

The illegal spoiler was not found until the No. 4 Ford received a thorough inspection at NASCAR’s Research and Development Center when it was returned to North Carolina after Sunday’s race. An inspector at Texas thought the spoiler looked off, but Miller said it had to be removed from the car. Once that happened, it was “100 percent, as black and white as it gets,” Miller said.

Spoilers will be checked at Phoenix this weekend, Miller said, and NASCAR will likely ramp up its penalties next year.

“We need to change the culture to where we don’t have to play this cat and mouse game with the teams,” Miller said. “It’s getting borderline ridiculous.”

The penalty negated the automatic berth     Harvick earned into    NASCAR’s version of a final four. In addition to losing his spot in next weekend’s finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Harvick must close out the final two races of the season without crew chief Rodney Childers and car chief Robert Smith. Both were suspended for two races. Childers also was fined $75,000.

Harvick was docked     40 driver points, and Stewart-Haas Racing was docked 40 owner points as well. Harvick enters this weekend’s race at Phoenix fourth among the remaining eight playoff drivers, three points above the cutline. Should there be a tie for the final transfer spot, Harvick would not be eligible to use the Texas victory in the tiebreaking procedure.

Greg Zipadelli, vice president of competition at SHR, said the team will not appeal the penalties. Tony Gibson will be Harvick’s interim crew chief and Nick DeFazio will be interim car chief.

“We work tirelessly across every inch of         our race cars to create speed and, unfortunately,      NASCAR determined we ventured into an area not accommodated by its rule book,” Zipadelli said. “We will not appeal the penalty. Instead, we will direct our immediate focus to this weekend’s event in Phoenix and control our destiny on the racetrack.”

Harvick’s win at Texas was his series-leading eighth of the year and qualified him for Homestead along with Joey Logano. Now, three spots in the finale will be up for grabs Sunday in Phoenix.

Harvick won the 2014 Cup Series championship and went to Phoenix that season in a must-win situation to race for the title.

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