Each week SB Nation's NASCAR reporter Jordan Bianchi answers your questions about the latest news and happenings within the sport. If you have a mailbag question email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Two straight weeks Martin Truex Jr.'s car has failed inspection. How many more weeks are needed before everyone realizes he's only running this good and winning because his cars are obviously cheated up?
A common perception is that Martin Truex Jr. and Furniture Row Racing's recent emergence as a top-tier team is because crew chief Cole Pearn and company have found and are exploiting loopholes in the NASCAR rulebook. Understandably, it's easy to think this when you consider Truex went from finishing 24th in points in 2014 to making the championship round last season to being a title favorite this season. That's a dramatic performance gain in a sport where gradual progress is the norm.
But there are two things that must be stated regarding this notion FRR is pulling one over on NASCAR officials. First, the inspection process is quite thorough, including NASCAR taking the winning car back to its research and development center in North Carolina for a complete teardown. If FRR were doing something deceitful, the odds are exceedingly high officials would've discovered it by now.
This leads into the second point: There are very few secrets within the NASCAR garage. Teams work in close proximity, and organizations admittedly employ spies disguised as fans to snap photos of opposing cars to later gauge subtle differences between their cars and the competition.
FRR has been busted in consecutive weeks because it's taking full advantage of the allowances NASCAR gives, and if you go right up against that line often enough you're going to sometimes step over it. That's no different than what most every other team, if not all, does each and every race.
When is NASCAR going to start taking away wins for anyone whose car doesn't pass inspection postrace? If you're cheating, you're cheating and I don't care if it was a little bit or a lot. When I watch a race I want to know that whomever won did it with a legal car.
Ideally the rulebook should clearly be defined in black and white. If you win a race and your car is deemed illegal, sorry, your win is taken away. No margin of error with no in-between.
Of course, it's never that straightforward.
Just as police don't arrest jaywalkers, NASCAR is reluctant to disqualify teams for committing minor infractions. For example, in Truex's case his car was found to be ever so slightly above the threshold permitted when going through the Laser Inspection Station -- certainly not enough of a difference to provide a competitive advantage.
If NASCAR were to declare Truex's win invalid, it would be the equivalent of using a bazooka to kill a mosquito. Although the bug is exterminated, it came at an extremely high cost.
Now, for major violations pertaining to tires, engines, fuel or anything impacting a car's performance, NASCAR should revise its longstanding policy and begin stripping a victory and all the benefits that go with it. But that's not applicable to what officials found amiss on Truex's car postrace at Chicagoland.
In Truex's case, what's the point of even penalizing him if you're not going to take away the win? So he loses some points? Big deal. He stills gets to advance in the Chase, so obviously it was worth the tradeoff. If NASCAR wants to prevent guys from winning races with illegal cars, then it needs meaty penalties that scares teams.
You nailed the exact reasoning behind NASCAR electing not to penalize Truex or Jimmie Johnson on Wednesday. Because Truex would've kept his win, he essentially escaped punishment. Meanwhile, 12th-place finisher Johnson would have been severely impacted by a 10-point deduction -- he'd have faced greater difficulty advancing to the second playoff round, whereas Truex was already assured of moving on.
As NASCAR executives admitted in explaining why they absolved Truex and Johnson, it's not fair to have two drivers commit the same offense, yet have two entirely different consequences. To its credit, NASCAR virtually eliminated the swath of gray between what constitutes a minor penalty and a major penalty.
Henceforth, if a car fails inspection it is because a team intended to cheat and it will face stiff penalties. The rule and the implementation are now how they should've been all along.