Monday, March 19, 2018

COMMENTARY: NASCAR Made The Right Move To End Pre-Qualifying Debacles

Last Friday, 13 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams failed to pass pre-qualifying technical inspection at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. As a result, those 13 teams – fully 1/3 of the field -- did not make qualifying runs, relegating themselves to the rear of the field for Sunday’s running of the Auto Club 400.

That sounds like a significant penalty, but it’s not.

In a 400-mile marathon event, a 100-yard disadvantage is negligible, at best. And on a track like Auto Club Speedway, where tire falloff begins virtually at the drop of the green flag, the ability to start the race on new tires – rather than tires with a minimum of six qualifying laps on them – is seen by many observers as an advantage.

Polesitter Martin Truex, Jr., was candid in his assessment Friday, saying that unless a driver was starting in the front two rows, it would be advantageous to start at the rear of the grid, on new rubber.

Dealing with what former NASCAR official Jim Hunter affectionately called “bamboozlement and chicanery” is nothing new. The winner of NASCAR’s first sanctioned race in 1949 was disqualified for utilizing non-stock suspension components, and the technological tug-of-war between racers and officials has continued unabated, ever since.

NASCAR's Miller: "Too many illegal cars."
But at Auto Club Speedway, a two-mile oval where aerodynamics are critical to a car’s performance, the temptation for teams to grab every possible advantage was apparently too much to resist. Team after team tested NASCAR’s new Optical Scanning Station Friday, failing multiple pre-qualifying inspections in an embarrassing sideshow for both them and NASCAR.  

“This is one of the more aero-dependent tracks on the circuit,” explained NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition Scott Miller. “So it’s no surprise that they would be pushing the limits on that. The faster the race track, the more important the aerodynamics are.”

Asked whether there was an issue with the OSS system, he replied tersely, “Too many illegal cars.”

Todd Gordon, crew chief for Joey Logano’s No. 22 Team Penske Ford, went a step further, telling Sirius XM NASCAR Radio that he believes some teams intentionally failed pre-qualifying inspection Friday, in an effort to start the race on new tires.

“The problems in inspection were not procedural problems,” said Gordon. “They were, to some extent, intentional problems.”

Late Friday evening, NASCAR responded to its latest rules controversy, announcing that drivers who had made qualifying attempts would be allowed to bolt-on new tires for the start of Sunday’s race.

The following day, the sanctioning body went a step further, telling Xfinity Series competitors that teams failing pre-qualifying inspection would be required to pit on the opening lap of the event for a “pass-through” penalty, leaving them at least one lap down to the field.

Not coincidentally, every NXS team passed pre-qualifying inspection, with flying colors.

While altering procedures in the middle of a race weekend is not ideal, NASCAR can be forgiven for shuffling the deck at Auto Club Speedway. The sanctioning body should never allow teams to profit from creating – intentionally or not -- the kind of debacle witnessed at Auto Club Speedway last Friday. And they should never reward teams for giving anything less than their best.

The sanctioning body’s new “first lap pass-through” policy is expected to continue this weekend at Martinsville Speedway and for the remainder of the season. Hopefully, the new sanction will convince teams to arrive at the speedway with legal race cars and race them to the best of their ability.


  1. Anonymous11:03 AM

    This highlights a growing belief on my part that many of nascar's problems are caused by the teams at least as much as, if not more so than nascar.
    As far as the "first lap pass-through" lets see if they include the Cup cars this week. My suspicion is that they won't.

  2. Why not just make it simple....if you don't pass inspection then you don't race. Watch how fast the problems go away.

  3. I might be wrong, but you never hear about this amount of car failing technical inspection in F1,Indy or any other nation series. Why is this, are the penalties harsher.

  4. Anonymous12:14 PM

    NASCAR's attempts to level the playing field once again turns out to be a nightmare. Back as recently as the 90's, we had Buicks, Pontiacs, Chrysler products along with the Chevys and Fords and then Toyotas.The racing wa exciting you could differentiate between brands and they dropped a template on the cars to make sure they had the look of a 'stock' car. Today it's a joke.From air guns to laser tables, it's not fun anymore to watch the same 10 drivers compete for the win EVERY weekend no matter what NASCAR does to even the field. The departing and departed sponsors know that, the fans know that and NOTHING will change it no matter how hard Brian France wants NASCAR to become Formula Boring.Maybe NASCAR needs to go through changes and not the cars because stock doesn't apply here any longer.

    Pistonhead from Texas

    1. You think the word "stock" applied in the `90s?

    2. Anonymous1:48 PM

      Looking. We both know the rules were bent farther than wet noodles. But they appeared to be 'stock' cars. Were they safer, hell no. But every manufacturer had a chance to win every weekend. As did most drivers. That's what made me and thousands of others go to races more than once in a lifetime. Now the cars (Camry and the previous generation Chevy SS) as two doors weren't even available to the public. Toyota hasn't made a performance version of the Camry in its lifetime. So, we get to watch 14 guys racing Chevys, 14 racing Toyotas and 12 racing Fords and the same 10 drivers winning year in and year out no matter what NASCAR does. Is it any wonder why fans have left in droves and the Millennials could care less?


    3. Stock hasn't applied since the first name. What they should really do is change the meaning of the NASCAR acronym

  5. Anonymous12:53 PM

    I was a big fan since my early teens, and now that I'm in my mid 50's the sport has become hollow. I even raced locally, competitively in my late 30's to about 8 years ago, when I could finally have time to do it (kids, work, etc.) I even when 2 races a year for awhile and enjoyed it tremendously. The sport didn't die when Dale Sr. left too, soon, or even when Davey or Adam left.

    The sport died when everyone involved forgot that speed costs, and the old adage "How fast do you want to go?... How much can you afford?" Then Brian thought he could be as big as the NFL, then came the TV revenues sharing, big moey sponsors and finally template race cars with now creativity or ingenuity. We are watching a slow death of a once great past time.

    NASCAR needs to change - first adjust the schedule as to not compete with College Football and the NFL. Early to Mid Summer would be best. Use the fall and early spring to hold local short track racing with some stars competing to generate interest. Second - let 'em race. reduce the downforce/aero dependency, lower the spoiler even more, hard compound tires, lighten up some of the rules, and let'em have at it. You'll see you have the cajones to flat foot it around and who can really drive a 3500# race car. Third - let the young guns have them pay their dues longer. Heck When Hyle Larson recently said that he doesn't even know how to work on his car, he just drives it. OMG... really? Even the kids who are the "tuner crowd" get their hands really dirty tuning their Civics, Rx-7's... and this is the demo that NASCAR wants to attract? Every hard core motorhead/race fan respects someone who can get their hands dirty and not just be a pretty face.

    1. "Then Brian thought he could be as big as the NFL....." You say this as if there was not reason to think that way. "Then came the TV revenues, big money sponsors, and finally template racecars with no creativity or ingenuity." You say that as if "creativity and ingenuity" aren't inevitably self-defeating. People seem to not want to face the fact that there is a limit to performance, and that there are performance levels in life no one should go to.

      "First adjust the schedule as to not compete with football, early to mid-summer would be best." No, that is artificially short. The autumn needs the major leagues of racing now as it did back in the day. "Let 'em race, reduce the downforce/aero dependency, lower the spoiler even more, hard compound tires, lighten up some of the rules, and let them have at it. You'll see who has the courage to flat foot it and who can really drive a 3,500 lb. racecar." This is the myth of the 5&5 Rule and in the twenty years NASCAR has been fighting to eliminate downforce and "aero dependency" it has failed universally. We have not seen "true racers" emerge in a low downforce rules box, all we have seen is more, not less, aeropush. Making the draft more important than handling is what brings out passing and thus showcases who the true talent is.

      "Let the young guns have to pay their dues longer....every motorhead and racefan respects someone who can get their hands dirty and not just be a pretty face." So this is to be accomplished how, again? Moreover, is not the fact of poor performance by the young guns a form of paying ones dues? So far in 2018 the young guns have had no ammunition, and in fact have looked not like future stars but like Mike Skinner wannabes.

      This illustrates that hatred of what NASCAR now is stems from a refusal to properly understand what has truly happened.

  6. Anonymous12:57 PM

    Simple solution if you don't pass you don't race. So get it right or risk losing your sponsorships

  7. I think that NASCAR got it right for the Xfinity Series. I feel that they dropped the ball on the Cup series and cost the teams that past inspect money for new tires. If I were making the decision, I would have made the teams that did not pass qualifying inspection run laps at what ever was deemed to be minimum speed for the weekend on their tires. I would have had them do this in final practice. I also would have require them to be in a " penalty box" or some such "pen" so that the fans could see that there was something different going on with that group. Furthermore they would be required to run minimum speed for what ever the greatest number of laps run by a competitor that did go thru qualifying, in segments or groups of laps and go thru heat cycles just as if they made it thru all 3 qualifying rounds. Only being allowed to make adjustments allowed in qualifying. At the conclusion of this they would be allowed to participate in final practice, if time allowed.

  8. Anonymous2:34 PM

    Who would have ever thunk that a team was trying to do it incorrectly on purpose. Getting closer to the 30 car starting field.

  9. Ah yes, the "Get Off My Lawn" generation doesn't like the cookie cutter cars.

    Of course, this was the same generation that complained that (insert their favorite make here) had a disadvantage because the stupid nascar people wanted their favorite make to lose.

    Things change, embrace it rather than being stuck reminiscing about the past.

    1. Anonymous7:10 AM

      Let me get this straight.... So you don't mind having strangers hanging out on your lawn?

  10. Anonymous5:04 PM

    As tolerances get tighter and tighter, and competition gets closer and closer the teams will seek out and employ any advantage they can find. The teams have people looking for advantages and the opportunities to exploit them. It is expected of them, and it is was they get handsomely paid to do.

  11. RobertG8:38 PM

    How do you stop a team from passing qualifying inspection and then just not going out? No penalty? Or I go out and run one lap?

  12. Anonymous7:51 AM

    What if nascar penalized team for failing inspection by requiring them to spray paint the entire car hood black or whiteafter the first failure if the car fails a 2nd time then the rear quarter panel black ot white covering all logos
    Ill bet that would get attentionw

  13. What will NASCAR do when some "qualify" at a speed that will not hurt the tires, say, fifty mph?

    It's kinda like "Spy vs Spy" from Mad magazine. Measures and counter measures. It's a never ending cycle.

  14. It is very simple NASCAR, you fail inspection, you don't race! Problem fixed in less than a week, GUARANTEED! Grow a set of brass ones NASCAR and Just Do It !

  15. Anonymous2:16 AM

    "Per section of the NASCAR Rule Book, the No. 18 Toyota had one lug nut not secure in post-race inspection. Crew chief Adam Stevens was fined $10,000."

    I wonder when a manufacturer will sit out a race in protest of the absurdity of the current NASCAR rule set. This kind of nonsense contributes to empty stands and lower TV ratings. The racing has become so structured it isn't fun or competitive any longer. To an untrained eye every car looks the same. To the long time fan, tech has replaced racing as the number one product of NASCAR.

    NASCAR has also turned to the right side of the political spectrum rather than the center, turning off the younger generations who aren't of the same political mindset, don't celebrate the war machine, and don't make a place for religion in their lives. NASCAR will not change even as it circles the drain of obscurity. If you don't replace the fans who have died you have no sport.

    1. Why would a manufacturer sit out a race over a lugnut penalty? Manufacturer boycotts accomplished nothing in the 1960s and can't accomplish anything now.

      "The racing has become so structured it isn't fun or competitive any longer." Structured? That term implies NASCAR is in some way directly dictating how teams race; there is a major difference between a tight rules box and directly dictating how you race, and for all of NASCAR's mistakes the accusation of "structured racing" is patently absurd.

      "Every car looks the same." This is one of the hoariest gripes and as usual shows complete ignorance of history and of performance reality - that Form Follows Function. "Tech has replaced racing as the number one product of NASCAR." And this happened why? A lot of fans still seem to think NASCAR just up and dictated it be this way, that the larger technology arms race had nothing to do with decision-making.

      The claim NASCAR is turning off the younger generations who "aren't of the same political mindset, don't celebrate the war machine, and don't make a place for religion in their lives" is false, as shown by the nonexistence of any "war machine" and media oversell of the "March For Our Lives" and underreported backlash against it by young people.

      Fans need to better understand issues surrounding NASCAR; a lugnut penalty is not the problem.