12 cars didn’t turn a single lap in qualifying at Kansas – 11 NASCAR teams failed to make it through inspection
As the field rolled out for first practice at Kansas Speedway, some didn’t. Jamie McMurray, Kyle Busch, Chris Buescher, Kyle Larson, Erik Jones and Dale Earnhardt Jr all sat on the edge of pitroad. Each of them were serving a 15 minute penalty after failing the Talladega template inspection 3 times.
It gets worse… Exactly, 3 hours and 20 minutes later, Qualifying began. After 3 hours of practice, finally the fans get to see something timed, that actually matter. Or do they? 10 minutes into qualifying, not a single car turned a lap. Instead, the same issues from first practice continued. Instead of lining up to qualify, drivers are standing around in t-shirts at the laser inspection parking lot.
This time the list grew substantially. Kasey Kahne, Clint Bowyer, Reed Sorenson, Landon Cassill, David Ragan, Jimmie Johnson, Timmy Hill, Carl Long, Erik Jones, Corey Lajoie, Dale Earnhardt Jr and Michael McDowell missed qualifying completely. Each of them failed to make it through tech inspection in time for Qualifying. With the exception of Michael McDowell, who had plans not to attempt.
Related: Kansas Speedway Starting Lineup
None of them were allowed to turn a lap. Fans tracked across the country to see Dale Earnhardt Jr run his final weekend at Kansas. No Dale Jr, no 2016 champ Jimmie Johnson, no hometown hero Clint Bowyer.
This isn’t good. I understand that teams bring it on themselves by pushing the limits. But is it really all their fault?
No, I think the entire inspection process is flawed. Inspection is a connected train of individual stations. If you make it through 9 of 10 stations, fail on the 10th, you’re sent on the marry-go-round back to the beginning.
In that situation, teams don’t go back to the garage, fix it and come back to station 10. Instead, they start at station 1 and roll all the way back to station 10. Where they could very well fail the same station again, in some cases they could fail it 3-4 times. Hence the Talladega penalties served during first practice.
It’s interesting. It doesn’t make a lot of sense.
While sitting in inspection Kasey Kahne comments, “We missed again. So now you gotta go to the back of the line, through all the inspection places that you already passed. Then hit this deal again. Everybody’s failing the same thing. It’s interesting. It doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
That is a huge waste of everyone’s time. It a waste of the officials time, the teams time and in the end when drivers miss qualifying, it’s a waste of the fans time to even come to the racetrack.
How did we get here?
Starting in 2017, NASCAR announced to the teams they were cracking down on the inspections. Why? Because it’s the very thing the teams asked of them. An effort to keeping cars fair across the board. A fairly important piece of ‘stock car’ racing. So, of course these inspections are vital to the core of the sport.
How about an alternative NASCAR inspection process?
A) It makes far more sense to create a Parc fermé station for the entire tech area. When a team fails station 10, pull their car to the side. Let them fix it under the observation of NASCAR officials. When they have it fixed to NASCAR’s liking, don’t send them back to station 1. Send them right back to the station they failed, skipping the first 9.
Now, I could see that working for 70% of failed station situations. However, not all. Sometimes when teams go to fixing something, they might very well change something on the car that would make them fail a different station.
In these situations, NASCAR should be aware of what they are working on. If they think it’s something that would force failure at another station, send them through them all again. But don’t fail half or more of the field and make them all start over each time, it creates a parking lot at the tech tent and a dismal field in qualifying.
B) If that option doesn’t work for NASCAR. How about more time between final practice and qualifying? Sounds simple enough. But they might have a bigger issue with TV schedules than you might think.
At the same point, if you give teams 1 hour they will take 59 minutes to line-up. If you give them 5 hours, they will take 4 hours and 59 minutes to line-up. If you give teams and extra 2 hours to work on the car, they will use all 2 hours. So, you end up right back at the same issue.
Scott Miller Vice President of NASCAR competition talks about inspection issues, “We think we’ve given a plenty good inspection window to get the job done. Competitors are pushing the limit and they’re not making it. You know and it’s disappointing to a lot of the competitors that they weren’t able to qualify. But it’s disappointing to us that they aren’t presenting their cars in a way they make it through inspection. Kinda the worst of both words actually.”
C) Do the opposite of option B. A bolder move would be to tech the cars before final practice. Take them from final practice directly into qualifying. Back-to-back with no time gaps in-between.
The problem with this is teams would be forced to run qualifying setups in final practice. That means 90 minutes of single lap runs. But is that really any different than we have now? It’s what most teams do already anyway.
D) An even bolder move is to link final practice, qualifying and the race itself in combination of parc-ferme. That means, no more qualifying setups. Teams basically roll out of final practice, park it in a locked down area where they can’t touch the car. Then, start it and pull out to qualify.
Race day, teams are basically running the same setups they ran at the end of final practice and in qualifying. This could be an issue. I do like that crew chiefs go back to the trailer after qualifying, study the data until 4 in the morning and come back on race-day with a whole new thought process on a a race setup to install.
NASCAR is always looking to cut costs. Option D is killing two birds with a single stone. It’s expensive to run data for two setups each weekend. It also takes extra man-power to switch out these two setups throughout the weekend. Teams could drastically cut their traveling staff.
The whole object of qualifying is to put the fastest car on the pole. However, fast qualifying setup doesn’t always equal a fast race setup. In this case, the fastest race prepared setup is the actual pole-sitter.
I don’t know which of these options is best. I’m not one to just complain about things while offering no solutions. I try to offer alternative routes, complaining about the broken points while simultaneously sparking discussions of possible repairs.
Perhaps none of these are the correct answer, I think there’s probably a better solution out there with some combination of C and D. The problem with C is if you wreck in practice, teams might not have enough time to even roll out a backup for qualifying. D is better, but I have a feeling many would have an issue with qualifying setups being removed from the sport.
I do know the current program isn’t working and needs repair. This isn’t the first weekend of these issues. It’s been recurring all year, track by track. Some are worse than others. Yesterday, was terrible.
It’s really shitty for the fans that drove 15 hours for a race weekend, only to see 25 cars actually take to the track for qualifying.