1. Humanize the process again
Last week in Holding a Pretty Wheel, I examined the recent rash of inspection failures in NASCAR. There’s plenty of blame to go around for what’s happening, but what can be done about it?
First and foremost, has the process become too dependent on technology? It’s very possible that the optical scanner and the lasers and all the things that are meant to make the process more foolproof are also causing more problems.
When a dozen cars fail an inspection, you have to wonder if there’s something wrong with the inspection rather than the cars. It’s possible that the more thorough scanners are picking up minutia that the templates and other measuring devices simply missed. It’s also possible that the outcome is affected by the way the car rolls through or reflects light or some other factor.
In any case, if a car fails the optical scanner for one reason or another, the best solution might be to have a human check the results by hand with a template and measuring tape. If the car still fails, it’s back to the garage for a fix, but if it doesn’t, roll it along.
It would certainly be interesting to see how many cars pass or fail a human inspection. While it does add a certain amount of judgment calls, it also puts some good faith back in the sport and reminds fans that it’s been about people for 70 years.
2. Meaningful penalties
Assuming that what the scanners find is legit, maybe it’s time for NASCAR to ramp up penalties for teams that don’t present a completely legal car on race weekend. There’s no one size fits all here, because it’s hard to say that when the failure occurs isn’t important. But when it comes to post-qualifying inspection, the car has competed in trim that’s not a hundred percent legit — and face it, starting at the back for a top car isn’t that big of a deterrent. A lap penalty for each failed inspection between qualifying and the race might be enough to keep teams on the straight and narrow.
Returning to the first point, that’s where NASCAR has to make absolutely certain that the car isn’t legal before the penalty is given, and the team should have the chance to prove it was due to a part failure. But if the teams really are trying to fudge something past NASCAR and they get caught, it’s time to make penalties with real teeth to make sure they don’t keep doing it.
3. Including that one
While we’re talking meaningful penalties, that means the big one: taking a win for failing post-race tech. NASCAR is selling fans short by falling back on the old excuse of wanting fans to know who the winner is before they leave the track. It’s another era, one where fans have access to updated information at their fingertips. Fans want to see integrity and a legal car in Victory Lane. Taking finishing position (and the payout that goes with it) sends a message loud and clear that the onus is on teams to follow the rules. It’s time — or past it.
4. Is there another way?
On the other hand, what about reducing the chances for failure by reducing inspections? Right now, NASCAR inspects before practice, before and after qualifying, and if the cars aren’t impounded, before the race, as well as a cursory check afterward. Is all that really necessary? At least one trip through could easily be prevented by impounding cars after qualifying. It would give teams fits getting ready to race, but adaptability isn’t a bad thing, and it would add another facet to the races.
The tech session before qualifying could also be eliminated if the penalties for failing after time trials were stiff enough to deter teams, like a lap per failure likely would be.
While it would be easy to say loosen the rules here as well, that’s really a separate issue. Does NASCAR have too many? Probably. But that doesn’t change the fact that whatever the rules are, teams need to follow them, and NASCAR needs to assure everyone that not only are teams within the limits, but also that a human made sure of it.
5. Decide what’s really important
All inspections are not equal. Anytime a car has competed (i.e., after qualifying or after a race), it’s crucial that it’s within the rules. And if it’s not, the starting or finishing spot should be given to a team that brought a legit car.
Before practice? That’s a great time to inspect because it lets teams know where they stand, but taking practice time is enough unless a infraction is egregious, in which case there should of course be additional points docking, fines and/or suspensions.
And go from there — is it necessary to have so many inspections? And if it is, how does NASCAR ensure they’re done correctly and penalties are applied fairly?
While there are ways to streamline the process and apply the rules fairly and consistently, at the end of the day, that’s the most important part: applying the rules fairly and consistently. And that means making a few changes and deciding what battles to wage in order to win the war.