By Toby Christie, NASCAR Writer
FORT WORTH, TEXAS — When walking around Friday afternoon before qualifying for Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, I couldn’t help but notice there were a ton more fans sitting outside the grandstands checking out the midway than what were actually up in seats watching the racing action.
When I asked many of them if they were going to go inside to watch qualifying, they said that they didn’t think qualifying was worth the price of admission. Once qualifying began, I immediately felt sorry for the few in attendance who had paid to watch their heroes qualify for Sunday’s big race because it really felt like they were cheated.
A convoluted and lengthy inspection process kept nine Cup Series drivers from being able to contest a lap in qualifying. Drivers who were stuck in the garage when the clock struck zero on the first session of qualifying included NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., it’s most polarizing star Kyle Busch, and three of the rising stars of the sport in Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott and Erik Jones.
It’s a shame, but the real shame is that this isn’t the first time that this appalling event has occurred during NASCAR qualifying sessions. But current rules are the current rules. These driver’s cars didn’t make it through technical inspection in time to get on the track, so they lose a shot at taking hot laps. NASCAR can’t control whether the cars fit inside the templates.
That responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of the race teams.
But what about the race fans? Why must they pay the price? And after seeing this happen so many times, why is this the way we go about pre-qualifying inspection?
The lone Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice of the weekend concluded at 1:25pm local time Friday. Qualifying didn’t begin until nearly four hours later, and inspection began with three hours until the start of qualifying. The fact that all 40 cars couldn’t get cleared for on track activity in that amount of time is mind boggling in my opinion.
But here is my biggest question: if we know it takes this long to inspect cars, why not let everyone qualify their cars as-is and then go through inspection after the session is complete?
This would at least insure that the fans — who pay their hard-earned money to go to a qualifying session –would be able to see their favorite driver at least attempt to run a qualifying lap or laps. Hell and it may even sway a few of those fans hanging out in the midway to purchase a ticket to go actually watch qualifying.