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NASCAR needs to examine pre-qualifying inspection penalty

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – JULY 12: Goodyear tires are set up prior to a test session at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 12, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/NASCAR/NASCAR via Getty Images)

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., on Friday for Sunday’s Auto Club 400 exposed a flaw in NASCAR’s tire rule that dictates teams/drivers start races on the tires with which they qualify.

Meanwhile, teams that fail to get their cars through pre-qualifying inspection in time to make qualifying attempts start races in the back, but because their qualifying tires have no laps on them, those cars start races on new tires. At many tracks on the circuit, with only one or two cars starting in the back because of their lack of qualifying attempts, the back-of-the-field start is somewhat of a penalty, despite having no laps on their tires, especially at tracks with narrow racing grooves and not-so-abrasive surfaces.

That’s not the case in Fontana, on Auto Club Speedway’s wide racing groove and worn surface, especially when 13 of 37 cars entered have inspection issues that keep them from getting on track during qualifying. Simply put, under the normal rules, the 25th-place starter would have new tires on a track where tire wear is significant and there’s plenty of room to pass en route to the front, while those who did what they were supposed to are penalized by being required to start the race on old tires.

Seems kind of backwards, doesn’t it? Those playing by the rules are penalized, while the rule breakers are rewarded.

As a result, NASCAR is allowing the 24 who made qualifying attempts Friday to buy an extra set of tires on which to start the race, negating the advantage those who didn’t qualify would have with new tires, despite starting in the back half of the starting grid.

But teams are being required to purchase that extra set, so aren’t they still being penalized, somewhat, in their pocketbooks? The new tires on which the non-qualifiers will start Sunday’s race aren’t an extra purchased set; they’re the qualifying tires that those teams already purchased for qualifying but didn’t use Friday.

What’s going on at Auto Club Speedway, as I mentioned above, has brought to light a flaw in the tire rule when teams visit worn tracks with wide racing grooves. As a result, I think the rule needs to be changed. I get that, maybe, the rule stems from an attempt to save teams at least a little bit of money by, usually, cutting the number of sets they purchase by one each weekend. But, obviously, this rule isn’t the way to go. That has become clear this weekend.

Teams still need to be penalized for inspection issues, but a penalty that may result in a reward of new tires on an abrasive track isn’t the way to go. So, what to do?

I think NASCAR is, maybe, onto something with the Auto Club Speedway weekend change it announced for the Xfinity Series prior to its Saturday qualifying session in an attempt to prevent what is happening on the Cup side. In the Xfinity Series, at least at Fontana this weekend, if teams don’t get their cars through inspection in time to qualify, they’ll be assessed pass-through penalties right after the race takes the green flag.

Maybe that’s the answer.

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Posted by on March 17, 2018. Filed under Blog by Amanda Vincent,Featured,Monster Energy NASCAR Cup,NASCAR. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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