Race Weekend Central

2-Headed Monster: What Should NASCAR Do To Deter Teams Failing Inspection?

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.

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Bill B

Fail inspection once you start the race at the back of the field.
Fail inspection twice you start the race 1 lap down.
Fail inspection 3 times you start the race 2 laps down.
Etc, etc.


…. and you do not qualify for the free pass. You have to earn your way back onto the next lap up. This should be a rule for any penalty not directly related to competition. think rough driving and the like.

Skyler Lysek

Actually if you want to punish the teams their a easier way.
For every time you fail inspection, let them lose a pit crew member.
5 pit crew members to start with
First time you get 4 pit members,
Second time you get 3 pit members,
Third time you get 2 pit members.

That would fix the failure problem quickly.


I like it.


Maybe all of this is just indicative of where stock car racing is at today. A situation where the obvious answer, inspection is open from x-y, if you dont pass you dont race, can’t be enforced because of contractual agreements . Just another nail in the old coffin.


You could have also sited (cited?) an even bigger example as John Force and several other big stars in the NHRA have missed the big show due to not qualifying on time. Note: how the NHRA did not collapse, the show went on, and the fans likely still showed up. I for one would still show up for the race if my driver did not make it in since that would be a huge waste of money.


Throw out the nit-picky rule book. NASCAR’s problem is not cars that are a nanometer off in matching some arbitrary template, it is the aero package which allows a few cars to completely dominate a race by grabbing the lead and being impossible to pass. As Michael Massie pointed out, since laser inspections, we have LESS parity and MORE blowouts. Fix the underlying aero problem, and stop blaming the teams for living under a system full of stupid rules.

I don’t happen to think penalizing teams for failing pre-qualifying inspection or waiting until Wednesday after the race to know the results, benefits the sport or the fans in any way. There is a reason IROC died and NASCAR is following the same path.


One reason I’m all in favor of composite bodies and nobody is allowed to alter them. BTW: how ridiculous is it to have an approved body shape for each model and then let the teams manipulate them with “tolerances”? Nice if you own a wind tunnel.


I think instead of starting the race lap(s) down, NASCAR should mandate that a car failing pre-qualifying inspection will have an extra 100 pounds of ballast in the car somewhere on the right side of the car. Fail inspections 2 weeks in a row, make it an extra 200 pounds. etc. Do not let the teams decide where to put the extra weight, make NASCAR tell them where the weight has to be!

Bill B

Maybe they could cram the 200 pound weight up the driver’s….. never mind. But that would definitely stop the cheating :)


Install it up the crew chief’s…. and keep him up where he usually sits. And if that doesn’t work, I nominate the car owner next. Call it “The Golden Anchor.” It will keep him in his spot.


I remember when Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip and Dale Jarrett had trouble qualifying for races because the cars they drove weren’t fast enough to make the field. NASCAR created the “Champions Provisional” or “The Petty Rule” so The King could make races.

After Petty retired DW abused the rule buy using it every week so it was changed that a past champion could use the provisional seven times within the season.

So, Petty, DW and Jarett all missed races, pretty big names at the time but guest what, the race went on and the world did not end.

I say this because if a big name goes home because they cannot pass inspection the race will go on without them. The world will not end if a big name goes home because it has happened before. NASCAR is just afraid to piss off a big name sponsor because it is more about money then racing to them.


It is a double edged sword. The “Top 35” in points getting an automatic entry came about, as I recall, shortly after Kyle Petty failed to qualify at Kansas. Kyle was sponsored by Sprint who had just taken over, a result of its acquisition of Nextel, as title sponsor for the series. Kansas Speedway is, give or take, 20 miles from the Sprint World Headquarters campus.

It wasn’t a good look. Particularly since Ryan Newman finished 2nd in the Alltel Ford and Jason Lefler, although crashing out, led 8 laps in the Cingular Dodge.

Sprint never had the fire in their belly for NASCAR, it just came with the Nextel deal and, to their credit, they honored it. That day in Kansas didn’t do anything to get them fired up for it.

I don’t know that the repercussions from Hichcliffe not making the show at Indianapolis are fully known at this point. Honda had just run a 6 month TV ad campaign featuring Hinchcliffe. At this point Honda has to be having some meetings on the top floors in Tokyo questioning if they should even continue in racing at all. The F1 program has been a disaster the failure of their featured star in Indy Cars to even make the show has to lead to a bit of head scratching. While they seemed to have nothing for the Chevys at Indianapolis they at least didn’t get totally blown out and had a decent representation in the top 10 (6 cars).

Given the Charter system and that there is a proven market value for a Charter (assuring a starting position) I don’t see a legal means for NASCAR to go back to a qualify on speed system. I’m sure they are dozens of the top law firms that would like to see them try but Sunday afternoons would feature court rooms rather than racing. To my employers litigation is better than the NFL, but most Americans don’t share their zeal for it.

Sponsorship is what puts the cars on the track and the existence of the league itself and I don’t see any way to change that.

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