I’ll be the first to admit it. I suck at math and numbers are my kryptonite. I know it. I own it. A man has to know his limits.
But even I know that 1/100th of an inch isn’t a whole lot. It’s like the width of five hairs.
One-hundredths of an inch is how far Martin Truex Jr.’s left rear was outside of tolerance when his Toyota went through the Laser Inspection Station (LIS) after winning last weekend at Chicagoland. Jimmie Johnson’s Chevrolet, which finished 12th after a late-race pit-road speeding penalty, also failed inspection.
Between the time I am writing this and you are reading it, penalties levied by NASCAR will be announced.
Previous LIS violations have produced either 10- or 15-point deductions during the regular season. NASCAR recently updated its rules for “encumbered” victory penalties during the postseason, but those would not be in effect for Truex Jr. because it was the lowest grade of failure for the LIS platform.
“The right rear of our car was well within the tolerance margin, which showed that we were trying to be conservative,” Furniture Row Racing release read. “However, the left rear wheel alignment was off by approximately ten-thousandths of an inch, which in high probability was due to damage in that area as a result of being hit by the No. 4 car. We believe the laser inspection numbers were correct and accept NASCAR’s decision…”
The good news for Truex is, by virtue of the win, he is moving on to the second round of the Chase. NASCAR said neither Truex nor Johnson’s infractions were deemed to be “encumbered.” Don’t feel bad. I don’t know that the hell that means either. So I looked it up.
Prior to the beginning of the Chase, NASCAR announced an update to rules regarding the post-race LIS process. Let’s not forget Truex failed post-race inspection the week before at Richmond.
The updates allow NASCAR officials to strip race-winning teams of the benefits associated with a Chase victory for an encumbered finish, which include the automatic advancement into the next elimination round and any tiebreaker implications, should those teams fail the post-race lug-nut check or the post-race LIS platform.
To be an encumbered finish — and for the rule to come into play — a car must have at least three missing lug nuts (not applicable here) not just one, as has been the penalty for most of this season — and fail the laser platform by a significant amount (to a greater degree than any car has this year).
The violation would have to “be egregious, it will be deliberate, it won’t be an accident,” NASCAR senior vice president of competition Scott Miller said. “That’s what we’re trying to guard against.”
So to really get popped by NASCAR, you have to be the biggest cheater of the year. So you can fudge a little bit, but not too much. Sure Truex may have lost 15 points in this round of the Chase, but at this point, he can come out and finish 40th at New Hampshire and Dover and still move on.
I get that the infraction was miniscule. It definitely doesn’t fit into the egregious or deliberate framework. But this is just another example of NASCAR giving themselves enough wiggle room to enforce the “rules” as they see fit. If you are going to have rules, you have to enforce them. This whole, “to a greater degree than any car has this year” is a cop out. The car is either cheated up, or it’s not. To quote Yoda, “do or do not. There is no try.” It seems ironic NASCAR is pushing Truex on social media as the first guy to punch his ticket to round two with a penalty forthcoming. It’s like the NFL selling pictures of illegal hits that get players fined.
I have another thought: get rid of the whole post-race LIS thing all together. The idea of post-race inspection is ridiculous to me anyway. You have cars — that were put through their paces before qualifying and then again before the race — on a track with 39 other cars. They bump. They bang. They rub — and rubbing, son, is racing. There is going to be some stuff moving around and getting bent and getting a bit out of line. It’s all part of the game.
Guys who pushed the limits and lived in the gray areas built NASCAR. It is part of the lore of the sport: Smokey Yunick and his 7/8-scale Impala or his car droving back to the garage after NASCAR took the fuel tank out. Those would definitely be “encumbered” finishes and are more than .01 of an inch.
One-hundredth of an inch is IROC. Does it warrant a penalty? I’d say no, but I don’t make the rules, NASCAR does.
They just don’t enforce them to amount to anything.
Andy Cagle, a former spokesman for Rockingham Speedway and motorsports public relations consultant, writes about NASCAR in a weekly column.