If a winning vehicle fails post-race inspection, should the team retain the victory?
Kasey Kahne’s victory over Erik Jones in Friday’s N.C. Education Lottery 200 — by a margin of .005 seconds — was tied for the second-closest contest in NASCAR Camping World Truck Series history.
The last 29 laps at Charlotte Motor Speedway featured two cautions and three passes, including the No. 00 Chevy edging the No. 4 Toyota by a nose at the finish line for the team’s first career victory under the JR Motorsports banner.
Yes, this was a popular win indeed — as is the case with anything Dale Earnhardt Jr. touches. But before the warm fuzzy feeling could wear off, NASCAR announced Kahne’s truck was had failed post-race inspection on three of the four corners. The Chevy Silverado was too low on both sides of the truck and too high in the right rear.
Keeping the trophy
When it comes to tallying wins for race teams, there is no asterisk next to victories that have been complicated by cars/trucks failing post-race inspection. But maybe there should be. Or maybe wins not earned on the up-and-up shouldn’t be wins at all.
In NASCAR, it has long been the practice to celebrate the win and ask questions later. The late Bill France Jr., who inherited the foundation of NASCAR Racing from his father and built the sport into what it is today, lived by the philosophy that the fans should know who won the race before leaving the race track.
NASCAR’s Executive Vice President Steve O’Donnell echoed France’s sentiments.
If we need to make a call, we will. That’s been our policy for a long time.
“We always take the cars from (the track) and then evaluate them at the R&D center at times as well,” O’Donnell told motorsport.com. “If we need to make a call, we will. That’s been our policy for a long time.”
In the days of instantaneous news via social media in a 24-hour news cycle, is it still that important for fans to know the winner when they leave the track? Isn't it more important for them to know the win was fair and square?
Long after the broadcast crews have wrapped up their race coverage from victory lane and photographers have taken their final shots of the winning vehicle, the team pushes the car or truck through inspection for what is generally a 30 to 40-minute process. Before inspection is completed, the winning team has left the media center and writers have completed the first-edition stories of the event.
By the time officials have completed inspection and word of any infraction is relayed to the media center, most of the writers are wrapping up or have even left the building.
A different red flag
One of the reasons Friday’s victory didn't pass the smell test was due the unapproved adjustments made to Kahne’s truck prior to the race. The crew changed a shock on the No. 00 truck after impound. Both he and Jones, who was late to the drivers meeting, started from the rear of the field — and that made for a thrilling start to the race.
The drivers — particularly Jones — sliced through the field at rapid-fire pace. Jones, who competes full-time in the truck series, led the event for the first time on Lap 26 and held the point for 88 of 139 laps. Kahne took over the point for the first time on Lap 111 and remained there for 20 laps until Jones passed him and retook the top spot. Kahne would need the green-white-checkered-flag overtime to beat Jones at the finish.
But as exciting as the closing laps were from the press box, after learning Kahne’s truck was cheated-up, it somehow cheapened the event.
And here’s the rub: JRM is not running the full truck season. This is just its second race this year. With no points on the line, what could possibly deter this team or any other from modifying a vehicle outside of the rule to achieve a competitive advantage?
As far as fines go, Kahne’s truck was awarded $48,454 for the win. While that number is significant to the average fan, it’s a drop in the bucket for a race team and probably did not cover the expenses for the weekend. To lease the engine alone would have eaten half of the prize money. Even if the fine equals the winnings, it’s unlikely to be felt within the team.
JRM used Friday’s race to establish a benchmark for its the intermediate program, in anticipation of driver Cole Custer, 17, taking over the ride full-time next year. Custer, who has already won on the truck tour (from the pole at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last year), is one of the sport’s up-and-coming stars and was at the track to support the team on Friday night. But the configuration of the truck as it was presented to officials following the event certainly would not have passed pre-race inspection.
A change of heart
The last time NASCAR rescinded a win was at Sonoma in 1991 when Ricky Rudd knocked Davey Allison out of the lead with two laps remaining. NASCAR black-flagged Rudd and penalized him one-second, handing the victory to Allison.
Twenty-five years ago, fans didn’t receive immediate notification on their cell phones when news broke and reporters couldn't change the outcome of stories by hitting the “delete” button. But technology now enables information to travel at a rate that was never possible in Bill France Jr.’s day. The sanctioning body has ways of officiating the race with transparency in inspections, on the track and pit road that could have never been imagined.
But will post-race inspections ever weigh in on NASCAR’s decision to determine a winner?
“It’s tough to tell,” O’Donnell added. “We always take a look at everything each and every year but that’s obviously the current policy, and we’re comfortable with where it’s at now.”
In the aftermath of Friday night’s race, I wonder how comfortable Erik Jones is?