Team R&D departments are keeping busy after recent rule change

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LOUDON, N.H. — NASCAR’s recent decision to change the penalty structure with the Laser Inspection Station after races has R&D departments working furiously to help Chase teams maximize the new tolerances heading into this weekend’s race at Dover International Speedway.

The change, which came after the first Chase race, has some teams scrambling and had New Hampshire winner Kevin Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers frustrated.

“We just haven’t been racing with the same types of scenarios that a lot of the other cars have,’’ Harvick told NBC Sports after his win last weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “I have no doubt we’ll figure it out, but it’s just a short amount of time to figure it out. That’s really my biggest concern. I don’t care what the rules are. Just tell me what the rules are and we’ll figure it out.

“At this particular point, you get one week into the Chase and go and knock on the R&D department’s door and say, ‘Hey, guess what? The rules are different now, and you’ve got to go out and figure it out.’ ’’

NASCAR’s decision came after the cars of Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson failed on the Laser Inspection Station following the opening Chase race at Chicagoland Speedway won by Truex. NASCAR said after the race that both teams faced a P2 penalty, the lowest level for such an infraction.

A few days later, NASCAR announced that neither driver would be penalized, noting that Truex would advance because of his win, but the penalty could hinder Johnson’s chances of advancing with him facing a 10-point deduction.

By eliminating the possibilities of a P2 and P3 penalty, teams have a greater amount that their cars can be over the standard before being penalized. The P4 penalty remains and carries the loss of 35 points, a three-week suspension for a crew chief and a $65,000 fine. If it happens to a winning team, the victory won’t count for advancing to the next round.

NASCAR also announced last week that every car eligible for the championship would go through the Laser Inspection System after each Chase race. All 16 cars passed last weekend at New Hampshire, NASCAR announced. 

Harvick wasn’t alone in his frustration. Crew chief Rodney Childers was not pleased because he felt like he was suddenly behind in the midst of the playoffs.

“To be honest, I was mad about it,’’ Childers told NBC Sports. “I talked to (NASCAR) about it. They understood. We’ve been over there a lot of times and we’ve never had one issue. We’ve passed LIS the first time across every time for three years. When we go to the R&D Center, we’ve never had anything loose, we’ve never had truck arm mounts moving or trackbar mounts moving. We’ve never had anything.

“To be honest, I was frustrated. I was told that all that stuff was going to go away and get taken care of. When we opened the window up even bigger, it was a huge disadvantage for us going forward and makes us feel like we’re in a hole and we’re six months behind in development to make something like that work.’’

Truex said he appreciated NASCAR’s decision last week, noting that he has questions about the Laser Inspection System’s reliability. NASCAR has defended the Laser Inspection System’s integrity and dependability.

Furniture Row Racing stated the left rear of the car was off by about 10-thousandths of a degree of rear toe after the Chicago race, while the right rear was within the acceptable tolerance.

Truex found the matter perplexing.

“A Sprint Cup car has a solid rear axle,’’ he said. “Both wheels, they can’t move independently. So let’s say you go across the lasers before the race and your right rear is 40-thousandths to the good and your left rear is 40-thousandths to the good. Go race. All of a sudden your right rear is still 40-thousandths to the good but your left rear is 10-thousandths to the bad. How did one side move and the other side stay in place? Solid rear axle. The rear end housing is not going to bend during a race.

“If the laser platform in my opinion was consistent, both wheels should have been off the same amount that they were before the race.’’

Truex questions how much of a difference even 40-thousandths can make based on an experience his team had at Kansas Speedway earlier this year. He was second fastest in the practice session before qualifying. When they went through pre-qualifying inspection, Truex said his car was off between 20- and 40-thousandths.

“It was quite a bit,’’ he said, not recalling the number exactly.

“It was like how in the heck is it this far off when we went through before practice and it was where it needed to be? Nothing changed. Obviously the measurement was off. So we moved it that much and still went out and got the pole.’’

“Everybody wants as much as they can get. Is 10-thousandths worth a thousandth of a second? I can’t tell you. I think it depends on the racetrack and a lot of other things.’’