Race Weekend Central

Holding a Pretty Wheel: In the Interest of Fairness

NASCAR did something this week that should, on one level, be applauded: the sanctioning body made a rules change to post-race penalty procedures because the rule it had adopted proved to be unfair when applied in competition.  That, in itself, is an important step.

Here’s what happened: Last week, NASCAR said that if a Chase car won the race but iriled post-race laser or lugnut inspection by a certain degree (a P4 penalty), the win would stand but not guarantee the driver a bye into the next round of the Chase.

The problem was that there was no provision for lesser infractions.  So when Martin Truex, Jr. and Jimmie Johnson both failed laser inspection after Chicagoland Speedway, the disparity became glaringly apparent.  For Truex, because he won the race and the infraction wasn’t great enough to take away his guaranteed spot in the next round, a 10- or 15-point penalty was basically meaningless; he’d move on and the points reset would erase any deficit.

For Johnson, though, the same penalty, for the same degree of infraction, could have potentially ended his Chase bid.  That’s not right, and NASCAR realized that, changing the rule so that drivers will not be penalized for laser inspection failures that would have been less than a P4 infraction. As a result, neither Truex nor Johnson received a penalty and remain where they stood in points after the race. The decision was fair to both drivers, and because of that, commendable.

But the fact remains that Truex and Johnson failed post-race inspection.  Other teams did not.

And on that level, the ruling is still unfair.

(Photo: Brett Moist/NKP)
Martin Truex, Jr. and Jimmie Johnson both had reason to celebrate after NASCAR elected not to penalize either driver after postrace laser inspection failures at Chigoland. (Photo: Brett Moist/NKP)

NASCAR had three options: penalize both drivers by 10 or 15 points even though it would have been a joke for Truex and damaging for Johnson, not penalize either driver or change the rule to say that any post-race infraction would result in the win not guaranteeing entry in the next round and penalizing equally.  The second, which was the ultimate decision, was fair in that it eliminated a huge disparity in the severity of what was essentially the same penalty.

But NASCAR should have employed the third.

Remember, Truex and Johnson failed post-race tech because their cars were not within NASCAR’s rules.  It shouldn’t matter how far out of tolerance those cars were; they weren’t legal after the race.  What would have made sense, since NASCAR is adamant that it will ever actually strip finishing positions because it would confuse fans, would have been to penalize both drivers and make both race their way into the next round of the Chase.

There is undoubtedly a difference between having a rear wheel a degree outside the rules and something more completely blatant, like soaking tires or using fuel additives, but does that really matter to fans when it comes to post-race penalties?

In the modern world of instant information, allowing drivers to keep wins (or any other finish) with an illegal car makes less and less sense.  Fans aren’t stupid; they know results are unofficial until NASCAR reviews them on Monday, and they know that a car is either legal post-race or it isn’t.  There’s no such thing as sort-of-pregnant and there’s no such thing as a sort-of-illegal racecar.

That’s not to say NASCAR couldn’t drop the hammer further for the really big stuff.  Fines and suspensions are, after all, still on the table, and that’s where degrees should come into play.  There should be no question of degrees when it comes to passing inspection and not being penalized; a legal car didn’t win if an illegal one did, and that’s not fair to the legal team — or to race fans, who deserve to see a legal car in Victory Lane or at least know that that team will get the trophy Monday at the shop.

Without a doubt, NASCAR must, above all, be fair.  To that end, the rule change was the right move to make, because the alternative was intrinsically unfair.

But it’s still not quite fair. Joey Logano finished second but didn’t fail post-race inspection. A lot of other drivers got lower finishes than Truex, Johnson or both, and they had legal cars.

Somehow, something’s still not quite fair.

About the author

Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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Bill B

Why doesn’t the same apply to the regular season? A points penalty doesn’t matter to someone that’s already won and is well inside the top 30 but to someone that hasn’t won and needs to qualify for the chase on points the penalty can be devastating.
Why won’t anyone discuss that inconsistency in NASCAR’s penalty process? If the goal now is to assess penalties that affect each driver equally then there is a major flaw in the regular season penalty process.


This is such as overblown controversy. NASCAR made the right call here. No team should have it’s championship opportunity dashed for the equivalent of jaywalking. However, NASCAR should start taking wins away for egregious violations (P4+). Maybe they should assess penalties for minor LIS violation like reduced practice time, or loss of pit selection at the next race. It would penalize the team, but not completely dash their place in the standings.


So basically NA$CAR is saying that if you’re a little out of spec it doesn’t matter. Tell that to Carl Long.

mike w

nascar is on the verge of regulation its self out of business


Well that is the maddening part, you got guys playing by the rules, they pass, not that they should get a Gold Star for doing what they should be doing, but the rewarding of the rule breakers based on the rules at that time is the absurd part of the whole thing. And the rule breakers whine, complain and make excuses. All this pandering by NASCAR and not having a firm line in the sand..it really is easy “pass or fail”. Integrity fail, cheaters prosper in NASCAR, and dictate what and how it is going to be!!!!! Spineless….

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