NASCAR moves to strip advantages from non-qualifiers

FONTANA, CA - MARCH 17: William Byron, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, drives during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 17, 2018 in Fontana, California. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

Teams that made it through qualifying inspection had a legitimate beef.

A loophole in NASCAR’s rules provided a tire advantage to cars that failed inspection and made no qualifying attempts. Those cars could start Sunday’s Auto Club 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race on fresh rubber, while those that made qualifying attempts are required to start the race on their qualifying tires.

How big an advantage were new tires versus scuffs? Martin Truex Jr. summed it up after winning the pole on Friday afternoon.

“In my mind, if you’re not probably in the top four, you’re better off being 25th (on sticker tires),” Truex said.

On Friday evening, NASCAR moved aggressively to eliminate the loophole and negate any advantage those who failed inspection might have. All teams whose cars passed inspection were given the right to buy an additional set of sticker tires to start the race, provided they turned in their scuffed qualifying tires and did not use them for Saturday’s practice.

As a consequence, those who passed inspection and qualified will be able to start the race on rubber equal to that on the cars that failed inspection.

Early Saturday morning, before the NASCAR Xfinity Series cars were set to qualify, NASCAR went a step further, announcing that cars that did not make a qualifying attempt before Saturday’s Roseanne 300 would have to serve a pass-through penalty after taking the green flag.

The specter of a penalty had the desired effect. All Xfinity Series cars passed inspection and made it to the grid in time for qualifying.

SHORT STROKES

Seeking a fourth straight Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory, Kevin Harvick dominated Saturday’s first practice session at Auto Club Speedway. Harvick ran the fastest lap (186.075 mph) and posted the best consecutive 10-lap average (181.009 mph). Stewart-Haas teammate Kurt Busch was second on the speed chart in the session with a lap at 184.431 mph…

Toyota drivers were fastest in Saturday’s final practice, with three-time Auto Club Speedway winner Kyle Busch at the top of the chart with a lap at 185.668 mph. Pole winner Martin Truex Jr. was second fastest at 185.319 mph, and seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson was third on the list at 184.525 mph…

Nine cars served 15-minute holds in final practice for failing pre-qualifying inspection twice. The list included all four Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets, the Stewart-Haas Racing Fords of Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer, the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Denny Hamlin, the JTG Daugherty Chevrolet of AJ Allmendinger and the TriStar Motorsports Chevrolet of Cole Whitt…

Late in final practice, Alex Bowman reported a drive-train issue in his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and brought it to the garage five minutes before he was to serve a 15-minute hold. An engine change, if deemed necessary, wouldn’t be particularly costly to Bowman, who would have to drop to the rear for the start of Sunday’s race. Bowman is already deep in the field—28th of the 37 drivers entered.

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