Martinsville Inspection Procedures = New Crew Chiefs by Friday?
Fontana was a wreck. An unmitigated mess.
Oh, the race had its share of bumps along its 400 miles. Trevor Bayne and Ryan Newman. Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson. Ryan Blaney. Chris Buescher. That’s not what I’m talking about.
No, I’m talking about the pre-race. Thirteen drivers didn’t pass inspection and weren’t able to make a qualifying run. Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola, William Byron, Daniel Suarez, Chase Elliott, Jimmie Johnson, A. J. Allmendinger and Kasey Kahne, along with Timmy Hill, Ross Chastain and Cole Whitt had to start at the rear as a penalty. Sounds pretty harsh but as ESPN Football analyst Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast, my friend!”
Seems that NASCAR has a rule that requires cars to start the race on the same tires they qualified on. Those in the back would start on “Stickers” while the ones who made it through inspection had to start on worn tires or “Scuffs”. At Fontana, where the track surface is very old and worn, the advantage of starting the race on fresh tires is significant; so much so that pole sitter (and eventual race winner) Martin Truex, Jr. commented, “It's a huge advantage on that first run, especially if it goes long. In my mind, if you're not probably in the top four, you're probably better off being 25th. It's going to be a big deal.”
He should know. At Atlanta, another old, high tire wear track he failed inspection three times, could not qualify and got a similar advantage there.
Todd Gordon, crew chief for Joey Logano (note-Joey is not on the list above) told 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.
That’s not right... and some of the drivers starting up front on worn tires pointed that out to the Sanctioning Body. The Sanctioning Body immediately reacted by essentially saying “OK forget that rule about starting on the tires you qualify on. You 24 drivers with “Scuffs” can turn those back in and start the race on “Stickers”.
Situation fixed, right? Level playing field restored. Problem solved. Nothing to see here, everybody just move on. We have a race to run.
Lee Corso reappears. “Not so fast, my friend.”
Seems those 24 cars who followed the rules and made qualifying runs and were now at a disadvantage as a result would have to buy those new tires if they wanted to start the race on “Stickers”. This meant that each car that followed the rules and passed inspection was in effect penalized $2000+ before the green flag dropped.
As my 10 year old son would say (and be scolded for it), “That’s stupid!” But you know, he’s right.
I think it would be safe to say with all the racing that took place throughout the world this weekend, MENCS is the only Sanctioning Body who penalized those who followed the rules and let the violators walk. That’s why Fontana was a wreck. An unmitigated mess.
There are probably a half-dozen possible ways of handling this situation, from assessing the offenders a monetary penalty and using the money to buy replacement tires for the cars that passed inspection, to taking a set of tires away from the violators, to having the violators put their old practice tires back on (they are chipped you know so NASCAR knows when they were put on the car, when they came off and where they are-like crew members this year. Go figure), to having the violators run a non-points paying, pre-race 10 Lap “Cheaters Stage” to burn the “Stickers” off so everyone would then start the real race on “Scuffs”. “Encumber” the Start is a possibility. NASCAR picked the absolute worst - “Make the ones who did it right pay to level the playing field.”
And they wonder why fans are leaving the sport.
But as much of a wreck as Fontana was, I’m encouraged about what I’m hearing this week. NASCAR will try a modified inspection process at Martinsville. The modifications include moving the inspection to after qualifications, impounding cars when they clear inspection and disqualifying the qualifying times of those who fail inspection-forcing them to start in the rear.
Some say Fontana was just folks finally testing the limits and got caught going a smidge too far. Todd Gordon, crew chief for Joey Logano also said on Sirius XM NASCAR Radio that he also believes, “The problems in (Fontana) inspection were not procedural problems. They were, to some extent, intentional problems.”
Doesn’t really matter as NASCAR is now addressing the situation procedurally and are eliminating several other problems along the way. One major inspection is simpler. It saves time and resources while speeding up the weekend. It eliminates a lot of the embarrassment NASCAR has brought upon themselves. Who can forget last year offenders sitting on pit road before being allowed to take the track, if at all? NASCAR’s “time out” or “dunce’s corner” if you will, looked grade schoolish at best. This year it’s shortened practices for offenders, so they leave the track early, but either way, NASCAR looked silly and all that goes away. This put the onus clearly on the crew chief to get it right and get it right early since what you bring to that final inspection is what you are going to race on. They can bring up a tricked up car all they want and log practice laps with it and even qualify with it, but come race time whatever tricks are found must be eliminated before the race and that car may respond different than what you logged laps on. So it pays to be right early, which benefits everyone.
No more missing qualifying because you’re in line with a bunch more knuckleheads (that’s not fair-creative engineers and mechanics who have pushed beyond the envelope’s limits) who had issues to fix and get checked again. No, you can qualify. There are no obstacles or excuses anymore. Now whether it stands or not, the post-qualifying inspection will determine that.
This modification procedurally “encourages” teams to come to the track in race trim. You want to practice with what you are going to race, you have to race with what you qualify and get through inspection-so the need to put in one setup, then rip it out and put in a different setup goes away, along with the costs and hassles associated with it.
The one thing it eliminates is the thing I believe NASCAR fears most with any inspection system it adopts-potential for inconsistent results. The last thing NASCAR needs is to try and explain a car that went through inspection and was found good, was not touched and went through again and found in violation. I hate to think of the PR firestorm and credibility black eye that would create. With a single inspection, it’s just like NASCAR likes it-“It is what it is” and that’s that!
Finally, this once and for all eliminates a Fontana situation, which sparked it all. Those who make it through inspection aren’t punished while violators are-not vice versa, like we saw last week.
I like the attitude this new system presents. In some ways it’s a throwback to the early days of NASCAR. I can almost hear Big Bill France say, “I don’t care what you bring to practice or what you bring to qualifying; you aren’t getting on my track and running in my race until your car meets my rules.”
This procedural change has a simplistic elegance to it (if a procedure can be elegant) with its “You don’t get B (to race), until you do A (pass inspection)” premise. This may be just what the Series needs.
If this all sounds familiar, it should as this is the basis for a series of popular and successful behavior improvement books written by psychologist Dr. Kevin Leman. You may be familiar with his bestselling book “Have a New Child by Friday.” Dr. Leman has used “You don’t get B, until you do A” principle for other books such as “Have a (fill in the blank) New Teen/New Husband/Happy Family... well, you get the picture... By Friday.” Who knows? Maybe after the Martinsville inspection changes “Have a New Crew Chief By Friday” will be Dr. Leman’s next bestseller.
Only time will tell.