While it has occurred before in NASCAR, the winner being disqualified — as happened in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby — will happen again in stock car racing.
NASCAR all but assured that before this season. Series officials announced that they would disqualify the winner if its car failed inspection after the race.
“We’re changing the culture,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, on Feb. 4. “We’ve tried to do it one way, and it hasn’t worked.”
So far, no winner in Cup, Xfinity or the Gander Outdoors Truck Series has failed inspection after the race.
It’s coming. It’s just a matter of who, when and where.
When it does, the grandstands will be empty … unlike Saturday at Churchill Downs. More than 150,000 fans were in attendance and waited 22 minutes after the Kentucky Derby before stewards disqualified Maximum Security and made runner-up Country House, a 65-1 longshot, the winner. Country House will go for the next leg in the Triple Crown at the Preakness on NBC on Saturday, May 18.
NASCAR officials said before the season that they hoped to have inspection done about 90 minutes after each race. Fans will be on their way home by that time. There won’t be the gasps and groans from the crowd at Churchill Downs when the Kentucky Derby was declared official with a new winner.
History shows that there will be a day (or night) when NASCAR fans will see one car cross the finish line first and another later declared the winner.
It’s in the sport’s DNA.
NASCAR’s first race in 1949 saw the winner disqualified. Records list Jim Roper as the winner but he finished second to Glenn Dunaway at Charlotte. Dunaway was disqualified because his car did not pass inspection afterward.
Eventually, NASCAR decided it was best for fans that if the driver who crossed the finish line first was the winner even if the car failed inspection afterward.
Richard Petty kept his 198th career victory in 1983 at Charlotte despite having an oversized engine and left side tires on the right side of the car. Instead, he was fined a then-record $35,000 (the winner’s purse was $40,400) and stripped 104 points.
In 1991, NASCAR penalized Ricky Rudd for spinning Davey Allison out of the lead just before the final lap at Sonoma Raceway. Rudd crossed the finish line first but was given the black flag. Allison, who came across the line behind Rudd, was given the checkered flag and ruled the winner.
Those are rare instances where NASCAR reacted.
Last year, Kevin Harvick had cars fail inspection after he won at Las Vegas in March and Texas in November. NASCAR disallowed Harvick a berth in the championship race for his Texas violation but allowed him to keep the win (as it allowed him to keep the Las Vegas win).
But the next time a winning vehicle fails inspection in NASCAR, the record books will no longer list that person as the winner. Just as the list of Kentucky Derby winners will have Country House as the 2019 champion instead of Maximum Security.