It's race day and the garage of the major NASCAR race track is bustling with activity. Official race inspectors roll car after car through the inspection line for one last look at the sleek machines that will soon turn the peaceful morning into hours of continuous thunder.
The teams roll the cars onto an elevated platform where two of the inspectors will fit a long aluminum template over the nose, roof and trunk of the car. The inspector at the front end slides a small guide between the template and the hood while the other inspector, the one near the rear of the car, does a final check of the rear wing. Meanwhile, another official places a flat piece of aluminum along the side of the car.
Before the car rolls off the platform, a team member crawls through the window and pounds on the sheet metal from inside using a heavy rubber mallet. Apparently, something doesn't jive and the inspectors won't release the car until it does.
Finally, the car rolls off the platform and another takes its place. One by one, each competitor will take their turn on same stage. As the cars roll off, they join the starting grid and soon the fans will cheer for their favorite driver.
In an official NASCAR Cup Race, forty-three cars take the track each race day. Before a single lap is turned, every car must pass a series of rigorous inspections under the watchful eye of the director of the competition and his team. The same inspectors serve as referees during the race, who scrutinize cars as they come off the track.
After each team qualifies, NASCAR conducts a post-qualifying inspection to look
at areas such as the fuel tanks and the suspension. NASCAR teams have engineers that are smart enough to develop shocks that can actually adjust during a qualifying run. At times, cars have been found to be either too low in the front, or too high in the rear. A car that is too low in the front allows for more down force on the nose of the car. In the turns, this characteristic provides better grip. Cars found to be too high in the rear provide drivers with more rear tire grip. This is a result of the rear wing sticking up higher into the oncoming air. Fuel tanks are always inspected to make sure teams comply with the designated fuel cell capacity. Even an additional gallon of gasoline can be the difference between winning a race and finishing one lap down as a result of running out of fuel. Fuel strategy plays a major role on race day.
On race morning, teams are once again required to roll through the inspection process. As you read earlier, every team shuffles their car (or cars) through the final pre-race inspection station for one last check of everything. The process isn't quite as detailed as the initial inspection; however, officials are still paying careful attention to every detail, especially the rear wing. Inspectors slide gauges between the template and the hood to check tolerances. If the gauge doesn't slide freely, the hood is too high and must be fixed. That's why teams bring rubber mallets to the inspection area.
Now, you may think an inspector's job is done once the cars make it through the inspection lines. It's time to go watch the race, right? That sounds like a pretty good job perk. While they do get to watch the race, it's from the team's pit boxes. That's because an inspector doesn't actually get to rest during the four to six hours of a typical race. Inspectors are NASCAR officials first and foremost. That means they have to serve as referees during the race. Each inspector is assigned a driver and it's their responsibility to make sure the teams are adhering to NASCAR rules throughout the entire race. Part of that responsibility is watching closely as crews change tires and fuel the cars during pit stops. For instance, it's the NASCAR officials' job to make sure all the lug nuts are on the wheel studs after each pit stop as well monitoring the actions of the crew members. Officials make judgment calls every single race that can penalize a driver with a time penalty, or worse. It all depends on the severity of the infraction.
After the race is completed, NASCAR officials still have work to do. It's up to them to conduct the post-race inspection. Typically, the top five cars are brought through this final inspection and checked for measurements one more time.
When conducting a post-race inspection, NASCAR investigates several things. First and foremost, inspectors measure the height of the rear wing. NASCAR gives teams the benefit of the doubt during these inspections. In other words, it takes in account race damage as possible reasons for a car not coming in at the mandated measurements. In fact, there's usually a range the car must fall into. Officials measure the height of the rear wing and front splitter from the ground. If the car is outside of the tolerance area, the car is subject to an infraction.
Every so often, inspectors do find infractions during a post-race inspection. Sometimes these violations are attributed to racing damage while other times, NASCAR deems them as intentional attempts to circumvent the rules. One of the frustrating aspects of the NASCAR rules is the notion of intent. NASCAR must make a judgment and handle each situation according to what it finds. By building the car of tomorrow (COT) and revamping the inspection process, NASCAR was able to change its outlook on infractions and subsequent penalties. NASCAR typically waits until the Tuesday after race day to issue penalties.
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