The new Optical Scanning Station inspection system was a mystery heading into the first real qualifying day of 2018.
Would a bunch of teams fail at in the first downforce race of the season at Atlanta Motor Speedway, as they did under the old system? Or would everyone sail through now that it is tougher to push the rules? Perhaps it would be somewhere in between.
“We were supposed to have limited the inspection process by a lot. It’s supposed to be what, 90 seconds?” Chase Elliott said. “If everybody gets through in 90 seconds, we shouldn’t have any issues, right?”
For the most part, that was the case. More than half the field (20 of 36 cars) breezed through on the first attempt, and only three cars had to make more than two attempts.
But while Jimmie Johnson and Harrison Rhodes made it through on their third tries, defending Cup champion Martin Truex Jr. did not. As a result, he will start 35th and spend the weekend without car chief Blake Harris, who was ejected.
Crew chief Cole Pearn was visibly angry after the car failed for a third time, which followed what Truex said was an extra focus on getting through inspection.
“We stopped practice early just to try to get a jump start and have good plan going into this system today, just to see what happens,” Truex said before inspection began. “We’re trying to get ahead of the curve. It has potential to be very difficult.”
As it turned out, it was for his team. There were problems on one attempt with the body and problems with the rear-wheel alignment on another attempt.
Furniture Row Racing president Joe Garone said the team was frustrated and the mood was “volatile” after the third failed attempt.
“You’re trying to figure out what you actually did, especially when you feel like maybe the equipment itself is off a little bit,” Garone said. “But it’s also on our side as well. … It does change every time you go through.”
NASCAR disputed the suggestion its new equipment was inconsistent. In fact, NASCAR senior vice president of competition Scott Miller said most of the comments he got from teams on Friday were the opposite.
“Of course they’re going to say that,” Miller said of Furniture Row. “… All I can say is we feel like we did our job.
“Everybody else made it out there no problem at all, with time to spare. I don’t know what else to say about that.”
Miller said the tolerances used in inspection Friday will be the same all season long. The new system measures thousands of data points and provides a heat map of the car — it shows green if the car is legal, for example — and Miller said “there’s no real way to fake your way through there.”
The tighter limits could have made for far more headaches. Instead, the day was mostly smooth with the exception of the 78 team not getting through.
“I certainly would have guessed there would have been a lot more (than Truex), that they wouldn’t have been the only ones,” Kyle Busch said.