NASCAR post-race inspection process needs overhaul
Post-race inspection, specifically post-race laser inspection, has been a hot topic in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing in recent weeks with failures becoming common and sometimes even involving race winners. But is this inspection issue the result of a problem with race teams pushing the envelope too much or a problem with the system, itself?
Sure, there are tolerances within which teams must play. I get that. I also get that teams push the envelope. One example of that is the pit-road speed limit. With a limit set at, say, 45 mph, there’s a five mph cushion. Here’s the rub — teams take advantage of all they’re given. Do they try to run 45 mph down pit road? No, or at least the best ones don’t. They’ll add that leeway. You better believe, they’ll not only take that 45 mph; they’ll also take that extra five. And that’s completely understandable.
But pit-road speed is more cut-and-dry than the results of a post-race laser inspection. Sure a laser gives a definite and specific result, so in that sense it’s cut-and-dry. But the rub is in the leeway. Teams are given a window to work within, so it would be easy to tell teams to allow themselves enough tolerance for normal in-race wear-and-tear so that cars are still inside of that workable window post-race. But what about in-race damage? How should teams account for that?
In recent weeks, cars of Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Newman have been among those that failed post-race laser inspection. After their respective failures, both teams pointed to damage from contact as the reason for their cars falling out of spec. Truex’s No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team even pointed to a specific point in Sunday’s race at Chicagoland Speedway and specified which car the contact came from that resulted in damage that caused its car to fail post-race laser inspection on Sunday.
Of course, teams are known to point fingers to cover their own butts. I get that. But two different teams in two-consecutive weeks pointed at in-race damage as the reason for inspection failures. How do they account for potential on-track incidents when setting their cars up? The normal wear and tear of a rough race track may be accounted for, but how can a team be expected to foresee any kind of on-track incident its car could possibly get caught up in and the damage caused from it? I’m not so sure that’s possible.
I think that issue is further compounded by the apparent sensitivity of the lasers used in this inspection process. Teams that fail the first time through post-race inspection have the option of making another pass-through. Kyle Busch’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota failed its first time through at Chicagoland but passed and was cleared on a second pass-through. What changed on the car enough to make a fail a pass while a car is simply pushed through and back into line? If that’s enough to transition a car between pass and fail, imagine the impact of even the slightest in-race contact from another car.
That being said, I’m definitely not an advocate of completely doing away with post-race inspections, either. I’ve heard the argument that if a car is in spec before a race, that should be good enough. I don’t think so. If teams know their cars aren’t going to be inspected after the race, you can bet your bottom dollar they’ll find some way to make changes to their cars during the race, even putting it outside spec in the name of a competitive advantage. I’ve heard too many stories of some of the old timers releasing weight from their cars and other shenanigans during races back in the day.
Maybe NASCAR should continue to process of inspecting the first few finishers of a race plus a random or two. But maybe that inspection should be more along the lines of weight and templates, with reasoning used to factor in damage. I’m not sure what the perfect answer is, but I don’t think NASCAR’s found it yet.