HAMPTON, Ga. – Sprint Cup qualifying was marred by a debacle for the second consecutive race to start the 2015 season.
Several NASCAR stars failed to get on track because their cars didn’t pass inspection Friday before the session began to set the field for the Fields of Honor Quiktrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. There were 13 cars that didn’t take a lap, including Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart.
Gordon blasted NASCAR after his No. 24 Chevrolet didn’t take a lap, apologizing to fans and 3M, which was making its debut as his primary sponsor.
“When you have this many teams having issues going through, there’s something wrong with this system or something wrong with the amount of time they’re allotted to get through,” said Gordon, whose car went through the inspection bay twice. “There’s no way with this many good cars and talented people that they can’t figure out how to get these cars through inspection. These guys are too smart and yeah, we’re pushing limits, but there’s something wrong here.
“I’m embarrassed for our series now that this just happened. I’m really upset for my sponsor 3M that just came on this weekend when we didn’t get a chance to qualify. We’re just fortunate that (we make the race). I know there’s a lot of teams that aren’t going to be that fortunate. I hate it for these guys that work so hard. … This is an embarrassment for all of us.”
Matt Kenseth shared that sentiment.
“It’s better than not starting,” he said. “I feel bad for whoever didn’t get through there and didn’t make the race.
“They should figure out how to get everyone through tech before qualifying starts, first of all. If they can’t do that, they should probably postpone qualifying until they get everyone through tech with that many cars.”
NASCAR delayed the start of the session by 15 minutes to get teams through inspection.
Sprint Cup director Richard Buck said NASCAR saw the trend develop and tried to provide dispensation to teams. All 47 cars attempting to qualify for the race were given at least one shot at passing inspection.
“We could see the trend develop,” Buck said. “Our job is to work with teams and allow them to meet parameters. We pushed it 15 minutes to give them as much time as we could.
“We treat everybody the same. There were cars that came through three times. Everyone got a fair shot at coming through in a timely manner.”
Buck said most of the problem areas in inspections were related to mechanical grip, specifically related to rear camber, or the angle at which teams tilt their wheels.
Buck said NASCAR would review the inspection process with teams and said he respected the fact that teams were trying to find speed within the bounds of new rules that include 125 less horsepower and 24 percent less downforce.
“They’re pushing the limits,” he said. “That’s their job to get every bit they can get through (inspection). It’s our job that everyone gets a fair opportunity to get through there. That’s what we did.”
Last week at Daytona International Speedway, Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer excoriated NASCAR after the debut of group qualifying for the Daytona 500 resulted in several wrecks.
Stewart took a more measured tone Friday on Twitter but still was critical.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who qualified ninth, said he thought it could lead to improvements in the inspection process.
“I don’t know what my thoughts are because I don’t know what the situation is,” he said. “I don’t know enough about what the problem is and why guys are having problems, so it’s hard to make a comment.
“I am sure it’s something NASCAR doesn’t like to see. The teams certainly would like to get a lap in, so they will work together to improve the situation. We’ve had a little trouble with the technical inspection over the last couple of years. A lot of new things implemented, the cars changing and the rules changing. It’s a bit of a struggle for NASCAR and the teams to sort of make that inspection process as smooth as possible, and (they’re) still learning.”
Said Danica Patrick, who qualified 18th, said: “I don’t know if it is the team’s fault, if it is the series’ fault, if it is the track’s fault or if it is logistical. I literally have no idea. I think we got a little bit lucky today, but we’ll take it because there are days when you are unlucky and you are mad at that.”