4 hard truths about NASCAR racing after Truex, Johnson not penalized
Here’s some hard truths about NASCAR and racing in the wake of the sanctioning body’s decision not to penalize Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson after their cars flunked post-race inspection at Chicagoland Speedway.
First, a quick recap of the news.
NASCAR decided — quite correctly — that giving a 10-point P2 penalty for both drivers for being minimally out of spec wasn’t fair. By virtue of his win, Truex automatically advances to the second round of the Chase, even with the penalty.
However, 10 points could have knocked Johnson out of the Chase in the first round for the second year in a row.
The same exact penalty treated two drivers very differently, so NASCAR realized that and rectified it.
From now on, no more "minor" LIS infractions. The car is either legal or it’s so far out of bounds that the benefits of the victory get taken away.
Now, onto the hard truths about racers and pushing the limits.
Hard truth No. 1: NASCAR teams push for every advantage they can. Every team does it. Always have, always will. That’s why crew chiefs make the money they do. In the very first NASCAR Strictly Stock race in 1949, the winner was disqualified for cheating. Since then, we’ve seen teams use shrunken bodies, oversize fuel tanks, soaked tires and hundreds of other tricks.
Over the last 30 years, NASCAR has cut the chicanery way back, but you’ll always have teams looking for an advantage any place they can find it. That’s what they get paid to do. And the LIS measurements might have been a place where some teams thought they could get an advantage.
Hard truth No. 2: Watch and learn. NASCAR has always been a monkey-see, monkey-do sport. At Chicagoland, Truex won but flunked the LIS. But he flunked by a small enough amount that the win still counted. You better believe every Chase crew chief saw that and started thinking how they could apply it to their own car.
The danger here wasn’t one car winning and flunking LIS, it was having six or seven or eight or all 10 race-winning cars flunk LIS. Can you imagine the yelling and screaming if a driver wins the championship at Homestead and got a P2 penalty? NASCAR’s action means they don’t have to worry about it.
Hard truth No. 3: The teams were already gaming the system. The teams had already figured out that they could pick up an aero advantage by having their cars out of spec in the race and then get them back in alignment by swerving sharply and bumping into each other on the cool-down lap. NASCAR is going to stop this process starting this weekend.
Hard truth No. 4: The racers are usually one step ahead. The late great Smokey Yunick told me this about a great crew chief against NASCAR inspectors: "For 60 hours a week, he’s studying new stuff to beat the rules," Yunick said of a top-line crew chief. "(The inspector) is spending 50 hours a week trying to enforce the rules that were made yesterday. They’re not even in the same game."
That’s nothing new. And therefore, it’s not a surprise that NASCAR is having to tweak the rules because the teams were bending them. As we like to say, "You’ll have that in big-time auto racing."
Yes, you will. And good for NASCAR to address it now, before it gets way out of hand.