Unfortunately this past weekend, most of the racing action at Auto Club Speedway had nothing to do with Martin Truex Jr.'s win on Sunday. While we saw tires wear out and four-wide scrambling on each restart, the leader was the leader was the leader. In other words, business as usual. So, what caught our attention this week?
On Friday the new Disco Ball in the inspection tent finally decided to drive the storyline of the sport. I have to admit I figured at some point this latest addition to the tech toys in the NASCAR garage would come into play.
Thirteen teams failed to pass inspection prior to qualifying. They ended up staying in the garage while everyone else raced for the pole position--which wasn't really a race as the No. 78 spanked the field and prepped for more excitement on Sunday.
So, what was the problem? After all, those that failed weren't a collection of teams from the bottom of the roster. The best of the best failed to get their inspection sticker with teams from Stewart/Haas, Joe Gibbs Racing, and Hendrick Motorsports starting at the back of the field on Sunday.
Well, it looks like there may have been two tricks at play here: either the team wanted to nab another smidgeon of aero advantage by playing with their rear windows (that is not a new storyline this season) or they wanted to save some money and tread on their tires. In other words, winning the pole was not at the top of their to-do list on Friday.
The very best crew chiefs, including Chad Knaus, were figuring that if they weren't going to get the pole, they might as well start at the rear of the field on brand new tires.
This wasn't about failing to understand the new body on their 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series cars. This was good old fashioned shenanigans.
As usual, NASCAR wasn't having it. On Saturday, the sanctioning body announced that all teams would be able to start the race on new tires, negating any advantage those that failed inspection might have garnered by sitting out qualifying.
But the problem goes deeper than teams trying to trick the system. Qualifying is broadcast. There are fans in the stands. We expect to see the full roster on track on Qualifying Day. And 13 teams decided not to honor that part of the contract between their professional sports team and the paying public.
Hrm. NASCAR is taking the next step in trying to get the teams on board by eliminating pre-qualifying inspection at Martinsville next week and combining it with a pre-race inspection. Do or die, the entire field will at least make one appearance on Qualifying Day. We can still expect that a failure to pass inspection will result in starting the race at the back of the field, loss of practice time, etc. etc., but it will not affect the tires, fuel usage, or even miles put on the engine for qualifying.
Now, would NASCAR go so far as to prevent a car from participating in the Sunday showdown should they violate the restrictions of the dancing lights? That is a question indeed. And doubtful. Nobody wants that to happen, except perhaps some of the media outlets as it would surely give us all something new to talk about for a week--something other than a single team dominating the season so far.
The interesting part about this whole inspection debacle is that the drama which is surely happening in board rooms and at the garage will not be aired on NASCAR RaceHub. By and large, the fans will only see the cars report for qualifying, take a couple laps, and start at the front or rear of the field on Sunday.
It's a whole lot of excitement, but without any real voice in our current media stream. It's a tug of war behind closed doors with the ingenuity of NASCAR's mechanical geniuses fighting against the corporate moguls who really need the ratings to pick up for the big race. Who is going to win?
We may never actually know. Worst of all, this latest chess game will have no discernible impact on the show for which we pay the really big bucks.
If we needed one more example how NASCAR continues to roll down the manufactured sporting arena of the WWE--this is it.