On Friday, Ryan Blaney scored his first NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series pole. While this was indeed an exciting day for the young driver of the legendary No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford, it was not very good day for many other drivers.
During the pre-race inspection process, eleven cars failed inspection resulting in those drivers not making a qualifying attempt. Among the drivers who missed qualifying were seven-time series champion, Jimmie Johnson, and two of his Hendrick Motorsports teammates, Dale Earnhardt Jr and Kasey Kahne.
Clint Bowyer and Erik Jones were two other drivers from larger organizations, Stewart-Hass Racing and Furniture Row Racing respectively, that had issues in tech inspection and, therefore, did not attempt a qualifying run.
Any time teams lose the opportunity to qualify due to inspection issues, some raise the concern that the rules are too strict or that NASCAR is expecting too much. These thoughts are further emboldened when media reports indicate how minute of an amount by which the car failed. Usually it is mere thousandths of an inch. As described in several reports on Friday, “the thickness of your credit card”, as reporters attempted to provide visualization of just how miniscule the amounts by which these teams are failing.
There seems to be this sentiment of “it’s only this much, it’s not a big deal” from many fans. Recall the incident with Matt Kenseth a few years ago when his connecting rods were only a few grams light. Many were quick to jump to the defense of Kenseth and, in fact, the penalties were decreased in that case.
For many years, fans, media and competitors complained that NASCAR had too much “gray area”. They indicated the rules must me more “black and white”, very clear, and not open too much interpretation. Yet, when NASCAR sets those clearly defined lines, and a competitor crosses them, we instantly hear how small and insignificant it is, and that they should get a pass.
Some fans also seem to defend the smaller teams and want them to have some leeway. They want NASCAR to not be so hard on them if they are outside of the rules because they are under-funded and “just trying to make it”.
While at the same time, those same fans want the larger teams penalized heavily and allowed zero tolerance outside of the rules. Refer back to the Carl Long incident when he had an engine that was just slightly beyond the rule of maximum displacement. Fans defended him and bashed NASCAR for being so harsh. Yet each time Chad Knauss gets dinged for a part that is barely out of tolerance, no matter how insignificant, they are labeled cheaters and should be banned from the sport. Seems a bit hypocritical.
As one can see by the list of drivers who failed inspection, many of these drivers are employed by well-funded teams and some were from lesser funded organizations. This issue was not due to the NASCAR regulations being so strict that the smaller teams with few employees were struggling to meet the criteria or that it is so tough that even large high-dollar teams like Hendrick Motorsports cannot even meet the specifications. The issue is that the competition level is so high, these teams are pushing the envelope to get every ounce of speed out of these cars. This is the essence of racing. Teams, engine builders, chassis builders and crew chiefs pushing every measurement to the absolute limit to gain as much speed as possible within the constraints provided. Is that not what makes the sport of auto racing so exciting?
Constraints, such as very strict rules, inspire creativity. Constraints foster intellectual thought and innovation. This is what keeps the sport moving forward. It keeps it interesting and exciting. How boring would it be if none of these teams were trying hard to go fast? One can be assured, it would lead to very boring race weekends.
So, before you jump on your favorite social media site or call in to your favorite NASCAR themed radio show to once again bash the sanctioning body for being too strict, remember the actions of NASCAR are what leads to strong efforts from the teams and that is what makes this sport what it is. It is why we tune in each week and give hours of our lives to watch and listen.