Level Playing Fields… Not Until All Winners Face R&D Inspections

Authors note; This season all we have heard is “how level the playing field is” with the 2022 introduction of the NEXT-GEN. But is it? With last week’s Pocono hullabaloo involving the disqualification of race “winner” Dennis Hamlin and “second-place” Kyle Busch for violations found in Post-Race Inspection. Couple that with NASCAR dropping the hammer on the “randomly selected” victim selected for R & D inspection, it has brought renewed interest in NASCAR’s inspection program.

The timing seemed right to go back into the Archives and dust off this 2018 nugget on the subject. It pointed to a fundamental problem with the system then and four years later the problem still remains.

It was true then. It’s still true today. Isn’t the time is now ripe for a change?

It’s that time of the season. New rules package announced for next year. Ride heights, common splitters, common radiator/oil coolers, enhanced data recording system with high speed cameras, change in inspection procedures replacing the grid, module and LIS with a camera based system. All sounds good. All done in the name of ensuring we have a “level playing field.”

“Level playing field.” I just love that term, don’t you? It’s a very lofty and noble goal. As I look over the rule changes, I wonder, do we really have that? Did these rule changes achieve that? I think not.

The reason why I say this is after all these changes there is still a fundamental omission that keeps the “playing field” unlevel. You see, under the current inspection procedures all winners don’t have to face R&D inspections. And that’s just not right.

Photo Credit; Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Come on, you say. That’s not possible. You’re pulling our collective legs. All winners’ cars go to the R & D Center for extensive post-race inspections don’t they? They take the second place cars as well, along with a “randomly” selected car. NASCAR has it more than covered. So all winners do go don’t they?

Well, guess what? They don’t. It’s true that all race winners do go, but under this year’s newly implemented stage racing each race now has multiple winners and Stage 1 and Stage 2 winners don’t automatically face the R&D Inspections.

If Stage 1 or Stage 2 winners win the race or finish second, of course they go. Likewise, if they are “randomly selected” they would go. However, if you win Stage 1 or Stage 2 and don’t finish in the top two and are not randomly selected, you skirt by and get off scot-free. You get your season points. You get your valuable playoff points which you keep into the Chase. You get it all and you don’t have to face a major teardown and possible encumbrances that seem to have cropped up as late with cars going through those types of inspections.

That’s hardly a “level playing field” is it?

You’re may be thinking, what’s the big deal? Stage 1 and Stage two winners only get a single playoff point. That’s true, but as Martin Truex Jr. has shown those points add up as he racked up 18 of those bad boys through Stage 1 and Stage 2 wins. That’s the equivalent of winning three more races and then some. So, instead of rolling into the Chase with 4 wins, tied with Kyle Larson, Truex is really sitting there with a playoff points total as if he won seven races. That’s huge.

When you couple that with the fact that out of those 18 stage wins only four faced automatic R&D inspections because the 78 also won the final stage (the race) and had to be inspected because of that, he basically won three races and did not face R&D Inspections. That’s huge.

More importantly, thats not right.

Think of the uproar that would happen if NASCAR just gave a team three free passes after race wins. However, with the current procedures that is exactly what is happening, yet the Sanctioning Body sees no problems with it.

Well, is it a problem? Is this just a 78 issue? If you look at the twenty-six race regular season results, there were 52 Stage 1 & 2 winners and one Stage 3 winner (Charlotte) for a total of 53 stage winners. Only 9 of those stage winners were subjected to automatic inspections because those stage winners also won the race (six times) or finished second. This means 83% of the stage wins did not automatically receive inspections.

If you are seeking a “level playing field” that’s a problem, a big problem.

“But wait” I can hear them say. “Stage winners who did not finish first or second in the race could be “randomly selected” and face inspection that way.” That’s entirely possible and may in fact have happened. To what extent it happened is not easily discerned since those “random” selections are not readily documented anywhere (or anywhere I could easily find). Including stage winners under the single “random” selection rarely covers the situation and in fact creates an even more “uneven” “playing field” as in half the races the Stage 1 and Stage 2 winners were different cars. This results in four cars that on a “level playing field” should face R&D Inspections but only three can be selected under the current procedures. So which one of the two do you “randomly” select and which do you “randomly” give the free pass?

See the problem?

Bottom line, it doesn’t matter how much the inspection process is improved or automated to “level the playing field” it can never be “leveled” as long as the process to determine the cars subjected to inspection is flawed. The current selection process, race fans, is flawed, seriously flawed.

The good news is that unlike things like aero-push and other issues that are hindering the sport, this one can be easily fixed. All NASCAR has to do is to add any Stage 1 and Stage 2 winners not part of the current three cars currently selected to the selection list. That would mean the the race winner, second place finisher a “randomly” selected car and any stage winner not in the first three would be making the trip to Charlotte for the weekly tear-down fest.

This change means that as few a three cars can be selected (like Vegas and Kentucky, 2018, where Truex won stages 1,2 and the race) to as many as five cars (where neither stage 1 and stage 2 winners did not win the race, finish second nor was randomly selected as happened in 13 races) can face R&D inspections.

Bottom line-All winners get inspected. Simple. Straight-forward. Fair. Field leveling.

NASCAR constantly talks about creating a “level playing field”. Of late it seems to have become one of their pet phrase. The truth is, until they include all Stage winners in the R&D inspection process the field can never be level no matter how much they talk about it or how hard they try.

The solution is there. Now is the time to either fix it or quit talking about level playing fields.

Talk is cheap. Credibility isn’t.

What’s it gonna be for 2023?

Photo Credit; Meg Oliphant / Getty Images

(Editor’s note: This story is publish with the permission from the author! It was originally published on Race Fans Forever. More of David’s articles; ( Here)

14 comments

  1. When Emmanuel Zervakis was DQ’d 60+ years ago for an oversized fuel tank, Joe Weatherly inherited the win without being inspected at all and later said he had the same tank in his car. NASCAR will never learn. You need a rules package that doesn’t make the inspection more important than the race. When a winner is DQ’d because of a piece of tape, the system is broken.

    1. Thanks Frank. I guess I was confused about this new car. I thought it was supposed to be less aero dependent and when a piece of tape makes enough of a difference that a DQ is needed sure makes me wonder.

      One thing about it is it has sure stirred up the fan base and generating clicks.

      The thing I think is funny is NASCAR didn’t learn anything from Zervakis’ situation. Weatherly was given the win without going through the same inspection process. Had he been required to he wouldn’t have won.

      History repeats itself as Chase was given the win without going through the same inspection process.

      That seems to be lost in the latest episode.

      Oh well.

  2. Too damned picky. A piece of tape? Get a life, NASCAR. Worry about giving us good races and bringing new car owner, builder & driver talent to the sport.

    1. I just try to imagine if Senior had of been DQes by this bunch over a piece of tape…

  3. Where in the world do you get the idea that Martin Truex, Jr. has racked up 18 playoff points through Stage 1 and Stage 2 wins this year? Truex only has a total of 7 playoffs points, all through Stage 1 and Stage 2 (since he doesn’t have a win). So, no, Truex is NOT “sitting there with a playoff points total as if he won seven races”. And also, where do you get the idea that Kyle Larson has 4 wins this season.

    1. Hi Christian! Thanks for dropping by and commenting, Just to make things clear this article was original written and first published 2018 so the statics refers to dates back to the 2017 season! David can correct me if I got thing wrong !
      //B

      1. Ah, got it. Yeah, I saw that this was being dusted off from 2018, but I thought the stats might be updated to see if the Next-Gen car, along with its stringent rules and regulations, has done a better job at leveling the playing field. Thanks a lot for the clarification.

        1. Christian, sorry for the confusion. Got an update in the works. Keep an eye out. Thanks for your comments and again sorry for the confusion.

  4. As Frank Burhman states, what about the guy who inherited the win. Chase’s car was not inspected at all, before or after being declare the race winner.

    1. John,

      I’m right there with you. Hardly seems right does it? NASCAR hasn’t learned much in sixty years IMO. I hope to say a thing or two on that real soon.

      Thanks for your comments. Much appreciated!

  5. Let’s tear the whole field down. Why not? No one even gives a casual thought to the work it takes to do it right. Pre-race inspection, post race inspection and then taking the top 2 plus two random sounds pretty thorough to me. Should they have taken Chase, probably, if the car was still on property. I agree in principle: tech 100%, but you obviously have never done the task.

    1. Thanks for the comments John. My next post-race inspection will be my first one, but I’m not sure being able to do an inspection plays that big a role in deciding who needs to face one.

      From your comment I take it that you have. With that said, I don’t recall suggesting NASCAR tear down the entire field, only expand post-race inspection to include those stage winners who don’t finish high enough or get “randomly” selected.

      Week after week all I hear is how valuable Stage Points and Playoff points are and how a single Playoff point can be the difference between advancing or being eliminated.

      If that’s the case (and surely it is or we wouldn’t have that constant reminder) shouldn’t the winner of these points face the same scrutiny as the race winner who gets 5 for the win? If a driver gets five Stage wins when it comes to the playoffs that’s the same as a race win, but he’s done so without the same scrutiny.

      Is that fair?

      This past week Larson and eventually Chastain got one Playoff Point each, without any of the hassle the 11 and 18 went through. They didn’t even go through what the remainder of the top 5.

      In the big scheme of things what’s deserves more attention-Stage winners or P4 and P5.

      And with the 9 being declared the winner without having to go through a winner’s post-race inspection and all the flap that has created, Stage winners dodging it is just an extension.

      Again, is that fair?

      NASCAR says it is. I disagree. But with a minor tweak they can make it more fair, give the points the importance we are told they deserve, and possibly add some integrity back in the system (or eliminate the flap when fans realize the loophole).

      Will they adjust? Only time will tell. After this weekend they have bigger fish than this to fry. Left unaddressed it will eventually smell.

      Thanks for your comments.

      Have a great race weekend!

  6. Good points then, good points now. I don’t understand why the #9 did not go through exact same process of inspection though. NASCAR will never have a level playing field, but I can still remember how they treated Smokey Yunick when it came to innovation. He was the greatest at that and since then, there have been so many others. Life changes, technology changes and the only rule that I feel is consistent in NASCAR is that rules are to be interpreted when and against or not against whom they choose, when and how they choose to interpret them.
    David, thank you!

    1. Thanks Vivian.

      What I heard on the 9 is it went through the lesser P3-P5 inspection and was released back to the team before the 11 and 18 DQ, so NASCAR couldn’t give it the same inspection. That sounds like a wee bit of a procedural issue that someone didn’t think through… kinda like this.

      We’ll see. Nothing happened in all this time…

      Thanks again.

      Have a great race weekend!

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