Race Weekend Central

Holding a Pretty Wheel: Fail Inspection? Time for NASCAR to Take a Hard Line

Another week, another announcement that a top-finishing NASCAR Sprint Cup race car did not pass post-race inspection — and another slap on the wrist for a race team.

In the last two races, here’s what’s happened: most recently, the No. 5 team for Hendrick Motorsports, driven by Kasey Kahne, failed post-race inspection at Dover International Speedway and lost 15 points along with having crew chief Keith Rodden’s pocketbook lightened by $25,000. That same weekend, Kansas Speedway winner Kyle Busch was without crew chief Adam Stevens after a shifty lugnut deal was discovered in post-race inspection after Busch visited Victory Lane the week before.

In both cases, the actual punishments probably don’t mean much.  If Kahne misses the Chase by 15 points or fewer, or if Stevens gets suspended for another violation (he’s on probation through the end of the season, and another offense will mean a harsher punishment), it could have an impact, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s unlikely either penalty will affect the final outcome for either team.

But taking those finishing positions away would.

And it’s time for NASCAR to start doing just that.

We’ve all heard the sanctioning body’s argument against changing the outcome of a race: fans at the track should go home knowing who won, or where their driver finished.  They shouldn’t be reading in the Monday paper (or these days, website, possibly) that the results were changed.

That rings a little hollow.  Fans aren’t stupid; most would likely understand just fine that a cheated-up car found after the fact could change the outcome.  I’d venture to say that most would approve of NASCAR taking a firmer stance.

There are a couple of variations on the theme that NASCAR could take.  One, of course, would be simply to take the finishing position and all points earned from any team who failed post-race inspection for any reason. Both simple and consistent.

The other is to approach situations on a somewhat individual basis.  Cars do get damage during races, and things break. If a team can prove its car failed inspection because of damage or part failure, then perhaps taking the finish is a bit too harsh.  Things happen, and a car that’s a ten-thousandth of an inch off somewhere after a short track race with lots of contact isn’t quite the same in most people’s minds as one that’s been intentionally altered to gain an unfair advantage.

The problem with the first approach is that, while simple and consistent, it’s not necessarily fair.  To take a win from a team because something broke on the car just doesn’t sit right.  And there’s a door cracked open by such a rule, one where a driver could take advantage of a competitor by intentionally causing damage to his car.  That’s not what the sport is about.

The second approach, while more fair, is not simple and could lead to at least the appearance of inconsistency, a problem with which NASCAR already contends.  While most fans understand the difference between a blatant cheat and a part failure, there is a lot of grey area in between.  For instance, is there a tolerance?  Does a 10th of an inch mean losing the finishing spot, but a 12th of an inch not?

Remember the penalty Clint Bowyer faced a number of years ago after the race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway?  The violation was a fraction of a fraction of an inch, and there were questions as to whether damage sustained during the race played a role.  On one hand, taking a finishing position in a situation that ambiguous is tricky.  On the other hand, that infraction resulted in a penalty equal to more points than Bowyer earned in that race, which in the end is much less fair than taking the points earned only in that race would have been.

From the angle of what’s best for the sport, striking the finish would be a solution to more problems than it would create. In the end, as long as NASCAR was consistent in taking finishes away from everyone with a violation or had a structured system in place that made sense to most reasonable race fans, it’s better than the current system, which comes across as arbitrary and reeking of favoritism.

From the angle of race fans, it is a bit more problematic, because to many, what’s good for the goose isn’t always good for the gander.  There are those who would cheer for a win taken from some drivers but who would practically storm the gates at Daytona Beach if it were others.  If NASCAR is to take post-race infractions seriously, the fans have to as well.

And I think that most fans do; most would understand just fine if the guy who crossed the finish line first ultimately wound up last on the score sheet if his car wasn’t legal.  And a legal car getting the win when all is said and done is what fans should be able to expect.  There would certainly be more incentive for teams to play within the rules (though it can be argued that “within the rules” should be a much bigger box than it currently is) if they knew they’d get no points for their effort.

With the technology NASCAR has to enforce the rules, and the rules being the same for everyone, perhaps it’s time to take a fresh look at what’s really a fitting punishment for in-race violations, and what’s merely lip service.

About the author

Amy is an 18-year veteran NASCAR writer and a five-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 filling in from time to time on The Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays) and her monthly commentary Holding A Pretty Wheel (Thursdays). A New Hampshire native living 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.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Share this article

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Now fans aren’t stupid Amy? Guess they are when you are trying to make a point pushing the Brian agenda that most fans know are BS. You and Ryan Mcgee cooked your goose as far as credibility goes towards fans. In this instance, gee…how kind of you, us fans aren’t stupid. I feel my self esteem rise as I read this. (Sarcasm).

The founding father(s) of this sport felt that the fans needed to know a absolute winner when they left the track and their (NASCAR) word was it. Time to rethink that policy (actually years ago). One would think it would be a sobering determinant going forward to have your win strip away, with very strict and irrefutable evidence of course to do so. For instance the lug nut policy why cool when it was legal, it wasn’t cool when it wasn’t legal and teams were given ample warning not to do it. Did that lug nut issue give the “winner” a unfair advantage off pit road? One could argue it did. Hence the suspension of the crew chief. Petty some would say, others not. But this “grey” area and favoritism might stop if the ultimate prize is seized. The embarrassment, and potential sponsor loss, etc., should fix those ills pretty quickly, one would think. But in today’s day and age, who the hell knows.


The severity of the “penalty” depends on who the defendant is. But we know there is no special treatment for anybody, don’t we?


I think this really needs to depend on the type of violation. A lot of times when a car fails post-race its for something that could have happened during a race, penalize them and move on. That doesn’t warrant taking a win or a finishing position. Now if they find a major violation P5+ then they should consider it. I really think the whole policy of not taking wins away goes back to Richard Petty in 83 with the illegal engine, and not wanting to cost the King a win when he was so close to 200. NASCAR has said and has shown that they may let you keep the trophy, but they can take everything else you get for that win (points, money, Chase bonus, etc.).


It actually pre-dates even the infamous situation regarding Richard Petty in the fall race at Charlotte in 1983. In 1974, Bobby Allison won the season finale at the Ontario Motor Speedway, but after the race, it was found that Allison’s AMC Matador had illegal roller tapets, and Allison and car owner Roger Penske were fined $9,100, a big amount at that time. But another fiasco involving a Penske driver may be the biggest reason NASCAR won’t take a win away for even the most blatant of infractions.

In the 1981 Indianapolis 500, both Bobby Unser and Mario Andretti, who were battling for the win, passed a number of cars during a late caution, an infraction of the rules. Bobby’s was the more serious infraction, as he passed eight cars, while Andretti passed three. They ended up finishing 1-2, with Bobby leading and apparently getting the win, but between the time the race ended and the time the official standings were posted the following morning, Bobby had been penalized one position, making Mario the winner. A big court battle ensued, eventually resulting in Bobby being reinstated as the winner (and I think properly so). I think that incident had a major impact on the major sanctioning bodies, and ever since then, they have been reluctant to sanction a driver and a team by taking positions away because of the kind of impact it might have on the fans watching the event unfold, and instead, choose to do so by taking money and points away.

Wins have been taken away due to scoring discrepancies (the most recent of which was in the XFinity Series race at Talladega), or even by decisions on rough driving (such as the ruling that took a win away from Ricky Rudd at Sonoma in 1991 and handed it to Davey Allison), but I think they’re extremely reluctant to do anything like that as a result of a rules infraction of any kind, either by the driver or by the team.


Once the discussion gets into “fairness” or extenuating circumstances” you know that nothing will happen.


Until they start suspending the DRIVER and the TEAM (re: the car) for infractions … all the penalties and probations mean nothing … … … if a lineman in a football game is flagged for a Personal Foul … the entire TEAM is penalized 15 yards; they don’t tell just that one player to line up 15 yards farther up or down field … LOL!!

When a team knows they (including their driver) will be sitting a race or races, they’d shape up. ‘course, the modern NASCAR rule book (I heard there really is one) is so convoluted, I am surprised MORE teams aren’t busted for something.

BTW … (and I am a Matt Kenseth fan) when Matt was sat for the race back last year — his “car” should have also sat out the race … … he did what he did in that car and the entire team should have been penalized for his “Personal Foul” … … … in a soccer game — if a player gets a Red Card — yeah, he’s ejected, but you don’t get to replace him (hence, penalizing the entire as they now have to play shorthanded) … … … … …

Bill B

It will never happen but in this era of win and your in and with the big money involved, I don’t know what other way there is to penalize a team and have it mean anything. Until they do there is very little incentive not to break the rules.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com