FONTANA, Calif. — NASCAR has changed two rules for this weekend, and at least one will likely be implemented going forward in an attempt to make sure that teams pass prequalifying technical inspection and make qualifying laps.
With 13 cars that did not take qualifying laps after not passing tech Friday in the NASCAR Cup Series, only 24 cars participated in the qualifying session at Auto Club (California) Speedway.
Those drivers who didn’t make qualifying laps start at the rear of the field based on owner points. The current procedure is, anyone who failed prequalifying inspection twice lost 15 minutes of practice time Saturday, and anyone who failed three times (the line was so long, no one went through for a third time and failed) would lose 30 minutes of practice and have its car chief (or another crew member picked by NASCAR) ejected for the rest of the weekend.
NASCAR informed Xfinity Series teams Saturday morning that in addition to those penalties, any driver whose car never passes tech prior to qualifying must serve a pass-through penalty — driving down pit road at the slower pit-road speed — on the first lap after the green flag waves. At the 2-mile California track, that would put a driver in danger of losing a lap.
That penalty is expected — but hasn’t been announced — to be implemented permanently for all series starting next week at Martinsville Speedway. A driver would lose at least one lap at the 0.526-mile track.
Technically, NASCAR isn’t changing the rules as much as changing procedure. A pass-through penalty is listed in the rulebook as an option for an at-track technical violation.
NASCAR was not pleased with what it feels are teams pushing the boundaries of their cars, something it has tried to limit with its new body-scanning technology, which it spent millions on to enforce rules regarding the body shape of the car. Starting this year, NASCAR’s system uses projectors and cameras that actually scan the body of the car and determine whether it is in compliance.
Previously, NASCAR used metal templates with touch points, and teams had found areas where they could meet the touch points but potentially be out of compliance in other areas.
While about a dozen cars would fail on their first time through in previous weeks, at least 24 cars failed on their first time through prior to qualifying Friday. That created a backlog in the line, limiting the number of attempts teams had to get it right. Nine of the cars that didn’t make qualifying laps Friday failed inspection twice.
Teams must pass the body scan before starting to practice Friday and often go through it at other times during the race weekend, even when it is not part of the official technical inspection, just to see whether they are in compliance.
“The big issue is, the cars aren’t legal,” NASCAR senior vice president of competition Scott Miller said Friday night. “That’s really where the issue starts. … It 100 percent frustrates me. We’re in the business [of] putting on [a] show for everybody that watches our sport, and this is not a great story.”
In addition to the new penalties, NASCAR made another adjustment to its rule for the NASCAR Cup Series this weekend. Its rule is that teams must start the race on the tires they use in qualifying.
But with the California track being a worn-out surface that creates significant tire wear at the start of a tire run, those drivers who made six laps in qualifying were at a disadvantage to those who would have fresh tires from not qualifying. Because those drivers who didn’t qualify were starting as high as 25th, NASCAR decided Friday night to allow teams who qualified to purchase another set of tires to have fresh tires for the start of the race.