This week, Kevin Harvick failed pre-qualifying inspection three times for Sunday’s Coca Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Per the NASCAR rulebook, Harvick had to start at the rear of the field and his car chief was ejected for the weekend. That raises the question: Is NASCAR handling inspecition issues in the best possible way?
It’s called “qualifying” for a reason.
NASCAR is a sport full of tradition but lately, it seems a new tradition has begun that many fans are ready to see end. Suddenly this year, cars seem to be having a great deal of difficulty passing through pre-qualifying tech inspection. This past week, a major team again couldn’t get it together and honestly, this is getting ridiculous.
So what should be done? Well, it’s time for a little tough love. It’s a simple concept. If you can’t make a qualifying attempt for one reason or another: you don’t make the race.
These are (allegedly) the best teams with the best drivers in the stock car racing world. Forgive me for not buying into the idea that expecting them to bring a properly prepared car is too much. They’ve been going through this process for 14 weeks now. Yet inevitably, each week someone is getting their car chief booted and having to start at the tail end of the field.
It’s called qualifying, so everyone ought to have to qualify to make the race. If you know all of the top teams will make the race, why have qualifying? Just have them draw positions out of a hat.
I’ve long believed that there doesn’t need to be a safety net for these teams. The charter system is a nice buffer to protect the big money outfits from those pesky low budget operations but whether they need protection seems to depend on who you listen to. Even before the charters came along, provisionals always seemed to be a free ride. It was an absolute mockery that a former champion could start dead last every week simply by showing up. It didn’t matter that a faster car was bumped from the lineup.
Racing, by definition, is an exhibited competition of speed. Again, the simple concept here: the fastest cars should be the ones in the race.
Don’t give me a sob story that the teams owe it to their sponsors to be in the show. Perhaps the team owner should emphasize the importance of making sure the car is on the right side of the rulebook. That way, he doesn’t have to make a call to the company that rented out an entire suite to tell them they won’t have a car on track Sunday afternoon.
But the current system isn’t really looking to punish the teams that overstep the boundaries. Instead, it’s still catering to the organizations with the most money and the biggest fan draw.
It shouldn’t matter if fans of a big name driver make the trek to the speedway, only to have their favorite have to pack up and go home. Every driver has fans that experience disappointment if that car doesn’t qualify. No one seems to care if JJ Yeley or DJ Kennington misses a race but they balk at the notion of Jimmie Johnson or Kyle Busch being on the DNQ list.
One of the most popular drivers in the IndyCar Series, James Hinchcliffe, failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 simply because he didn’t post a fast enough time in during the qualifying session. But there weren’t fans protesting in front of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday. The rules are in place and everyone knows them. The risk of not making the show is evenly distributed to all potential competitors.
There is absolutely no reason that a select group of NASCAR drivers shouldn’t be exposed to that risk as well. Especially if they don’t even make an attempt to time their way into the race. It isn’t like top drivers will miss the race all of the time. Once teams see that there’s some bite behind NASCAR’s bark, they’ll come around.
I bet all of the car chiefs will be glad they did. -Frank Velat
Why So Strict?
I agree with Frank that having all of these elite teams failing the pre-qualifying inspection is ridiculous and it gives the sport a bad look, but sending those teams home is not a viable solution in today’s NASCAR.
Let’s face it, like it or not, the charter agreement is not going anywhere any time soon. If NASCAR were to start sending teams home for not passing inspection, then owners like Rob Kauffman would throw a hissy fit and threaten with legal action. Also, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is already struggling with car counts. The starting lineup would look tiny if it started sending other cars home.
However, as long as things stay the status quo, more and more teams are going to miss qualifying because they want to push the limits for that extra bit of speed. Qualifying has already lost a lot of its luster, and it is even more detrimental when a fan can’t watch their favorite driver go for the pole award because he is stuck in the inspection line.
My suggestion for fixing this problem is for NASCAR to loosen up the rule book.
NASCAR was founded on innovation. Fans love hearing stories about what the legends of the past would do to get the most out of a car. Heroes like Smokey Yunick (who should be in the NASCAR Hall of Fame) would not make it in today’s NASCAR because they would be labeled as cheaters and get suspended all the time.
These strict inspection processes make NASCAR a shade of its former self and take the fun out of the crew chief position. The sport needs to loosen its grip on the cars and only mandate the engines, tires, and bodies. Let the crew chiefs do their jobs on all the other parts of the car. After all, these crew chiefs are some of the smartest people in the world — most have engineering degrees. We should be highlighting their creativity and innovations instead of punishing it.
The rules in place were set up to create parity, but they do the exact opposite. In a perfect world, yes, all of the teams would show up with equal cars and hash it out in an ultra-close race. But what actually happens by making the rules more strict is it sets the smaller teams back further. The bigger teams have enough money to do thorough research and find loopholes to make their cars faster. Meanwhile, the smaller teams can’t afford that kind of research and have to abide by NASCAR’s rules, leaving their cars left in the dust by their rich counterparts.
It is not a coincidence that ever since NASCAR started doing laser inspections we’ve seen nothing but blowout victories on the intermediate tracks. The laser inspections need to go along with most of the restrictions in the rule book. Getting rid of those would be a huge step in NASCAR’s reconnecting with the fan base. -Michael Massie
About the author
Frank Velat has been an avid follower of NASCAR and other motorsports for over 20 years. He brings a blend of passionate fan and objective author to his work. Frank offers unique perspectives that everyone can relate to, remembering the sport's past all the while embracing its future. Follow along with @FrankVelat on Twitter.