NASCAR announced on Thursday, March 5th an adjustment to the opening day schedules for Las Vegas, Phoenix and Auto Club Speedway as a result of issues with pre-qualifying inspection a week ago.
Sprint Cup Series practice was scheduled to last an hour and 25 minutes, but now will last an hour and 15 minutes, while qualifying for the three events will take place five minutes later. As a result, it will allow 15 minutes of time for teams to get ready for inspection and for officials to get the cars through inspection.
Technical inspection issues at Atlanta Motor Speedway last weekend caused 13 drivers – highlighted by Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Regan Smith, Tony Stewart – to miss qualifying as a result of not getting through pre-qualifying technical inspection in time.
“There is something wrong,” Gordon said. “Or there is something wrong with the system. Or there is something wrong with the amount of time they allot to get through. There is no way this many good cars, talented people that they can’t figure out how to get these cars through inspection. These guys are too smart. Yes we are pushing limits, but there is something wrong here. I’m embarrassed; I’m embarrassed for our series right now that this just happened. I’m really upset for my sponsor 3M that just came on for this weekend where we didn’t even get a chance to qualify.
“We are just fortunate – I’m assuming we aren’t going home because of points from last year. I know there are a lot of teams out here that aren’t going to be that fortunate. I hate it for these guys that work so hard. We were excited about qualifying today. I thought we had a great shot at being up front. This is absolutely ridiculous.”
“Obviously, they weren’t organized enough to get everybody through tech it appears, so I don’t know,” Kenseth commented. “We’ve got all the people up there to watch qualifying and they don’t really get top watch everybody qualify, so it’s kind of confusing and disappointing for sure.”
When it came to race time, the race scheduled to start at 1:16 pm EST, though would start at 2:13 pm EST due to rain.If the race had started on time, though, there would have been drivers that would’ve missed the start of the race. AJ Allmendinger, Jeff Gordon, Greg Biffle, JJ Yeley, Josh Wise and Kevin Harvick were still going through inspection. By the time the race started, though, all of the drivers were through inspection.
“NASCAR right now, they’ve got a group of officials,” crew chief Chad Knaus commented. “Once the inspection process begins, they kind of separate. We have some in the Nationwide garage, some in the Cup garage. Maybe they’re a pinch understaffed in getting their rhythm figured out. I think our wheel offset was off a little bit. Maybe our skew was off a little bit with the alignment of the rear-end housing.
“When we rolled out of the garage for qualifying inspection, there was really only an hour left before qualifying was to begin. The whole day was kind of slow. I think once everybody gets familiar with what their jobs are, I think that will start to get faster, go faster, where we won’t have this much of a backlog. It’s difficult to do that. NASCAR is trying to provide a level playing field for everybody, but it’s something that needs to be addressed.”
Sprint Cup Series Competition Director Richard Buck addressed the media following qualifying, saying that they made sure to allow each team to cross the inspection at least once and were able to do that.
“I think we saw different areas where the teams were pushing the limits to get through it,” he commented. “We’ve got a new rules package here, and obviously the history of Atlanta and the grip is so important here, I think we’ve seen that with the test yesterday, teams getting to the limits, and we were open yesterday for all day on the laser inspection station and templates and such, and we had quite a few cars that came through. We did see the area of the laser inspection station where teams were pushing it, and that’s their job. They’re trying to get every bit that they can.”
Buck added that they tried to give enough time despite the issues, by pushing qualifying back 15 minutes. However, they couldn’t continue to simply wait with the TV parameters and the rules they’ve set in place. For the order that they go through, Buck stated that’s a random draw and the first car goes through 55 minutes following final practice.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re last in line or first in line, at 55 minutes, to be fair to everybody, all work stops on the cars, we push them to the back of the garage, and inspection starts,” he explained. “They may sit there for a while but they’re not having that opportunity to continue to work on the car which makes it unfair. That’s how the process works.
“We have each station that’s timed. It’s about two and a half minutes per station, and we try to manage that dynamic, and if a car comes through there, the incentive today, unlike years ago where you could cut the line and keep the incentive, today it’s to come through right because everybody gets one opportunity to come through the entire inspection process, and their job is to be right, and if they’re not right at that inspection station, that’s when they go in a holding pen if you will or a holding pattern and have to stay there until everybody else has the opportunity to come through to be fair to everybody. Once that’s through, then we allow them in the order that they were received to begin with, that’s the order that they go back through inspection.
“We had some cars that went through twice today and we had some that went through three times, but everybody was able to get through inspection. I think we had 17 minutes left before we went green flag when everybody had had a chance to go through inspection.”