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NASCAR issued one of the largest penalties in its history Tuesday after Ryan Newman’s No. 31 team at Richard Childress Racing was found to have illegally manipulated tires.

Rumors had swept through the NASCAR garage last weekend at Martinsville Speedway after officials confiscated tires for two straight weeks. Drivers like Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin said they were certain some teams were drilling small holes in the tires in order to let air out during the course of a run, thus allowing for better wear and grip.

Newman’s team was found to be guilty of that, earning a whopping “P5” penalty on NASCAR’s six-tier infractions scale. The sanctions include a 75-point deduction, a $ 125,000 fine for crew chief Luke Lambert and six-race suspensions for Lambert, tire technician James Bender and team engineer Philip Surgen.

It’s said that NASCAR has a holy trinity of sacred areas on the car: Engines, fuel and tires. Any illegal modification or manipulation in those areas is expressly frowned upon.

When officials took tires after the March 22 race at Auto Club Speedway and sent them to an independent lab for analysis, it was clear there could be trouble if any results came back positive.

“NASCAR takes very seriously its responsibility to govern and regulate the rules of the sport in order to ensure competitive balance,” NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell said. “We’ve been very clear that any modifications to race vehicle tires is an unacceptable practice and will not be tolerated.”

The points penalty means Newman, who made an unlikely run to the four-driver championship race last year, drops from sixth in the Sprint Cup Series point standings to 26th. His chances at points-racing his way into the 16-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup — as he did last year — are now greatly diminished.

Newman would likely have to win a race to make the playoff, which he has not done since joining RCR at the start of last year.

In a statement, RCR said it will evaluate its options for an appeal once NASCAR provides the team with specific details of the infraction.

“We understand the seriousness of the penalty,” RCR president Torrey Galida said. “In fact, RCR has been one of the most outspoken opponents against tire bleeding since the rumors began to surface last season.”

Meanwhile, other teams can breathe a sigh of relief. Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 team at Stewart-Haas Racing had been the subject of many rumors, but crew chief Rodney Childers insisted to USA TODAY Sports on Friday that his team was not engaging in any manipulation.

Also cleared: Harvick’s teammate Kurt Busch and Newman’s teammate Paul Menard, who also had tires taken at Auto Club.

NASCAR, which warned crew chiefs on Friday there would be harsh penalties for any team caught cheating, also took tires after the Martinsville race. Those tires, taken from Joey Logano, AJ Allmendinger, Martin Truex Jr. and Matt Kenseth, were all found to be legal.

PHOTOS: Ryan Newman’s career

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