Hendrick cars have been under the microscope the first few weeks of the Chase. They have come up clean, but that has not stopped fans from crying foul. What's really going on here?
Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin’s cars were taken to NASCAR’s research and development center in Concord, N.C., following the Sprint Cup race in Dover. An additional inspection was performed on the cars after the routine check following the race in Kansas. A variance was found with both machines.
Internet reports have the tail section of the Hendrick Motorsports machine driven by Martin to have been within the NASCAR tolerances. Rules state the body section has to be within .070 of an inch off the centerline of the car. Offsetting bodies on cars designed for high down-force tracks help with cornering grip. Martin was at the limit of tolerance but not over.
The Hendrick car of Johnson reportedly was .006 of an inch over the tolerance. Both teams were warned of the close measurements and no penalties issued.
Anti-Hendrick fans have been irate on Web sites and other fan outlets. Many cited cases this season in which severe penalties were handed down to Juan Pablo Montoya and Carl Long. Montoya got his for a pit road speeding violation in Indianapolis and Long was nailed for an oversized engine at the All Star race. Favoritism is a commonly used word.
The Hendrick body measurements are an entirely different situation than those two cases. In the case of Montoya, his pit road violation was a cut and dry issue at the track. Electronic transponders are attached to every car and trigger times off of scoring loops buried in the surface of the speedway and pit road. All drivers are allowed a 5 mph tolerance. Montoya exceeded that, no question. The electronics are accurate and a positive data collector is checked on the spot, at the speedway, with no error. If Montoya was only 5 mph over the limit, his team would have been warned and no penalty issued.
Long’s engine was found to be oversized during an inspection at the May race on All-Star weekend. NASCAR has clear guidelines and tolerances regarding engines. A team can positively check this before an engine is brought to the racetrack and during the track’s inspection. The rule is clear and Long exceeded the tolerances. This measurement, like Montoya’s, is black and white.
Here is where the Hendrick inspections differ. The post-race body inspections are very accurate at the speedway, but only to a point. When it is a matter of .006 of an inch there is nothing at the track that can eliminate that variance. When a car is cleared through tech the NASCAR inspectors can see if an item is very close to being illegal.
By the time a car is going through post race inspection, this is the fourth time that weekend the car has been checked. After 400 miles of twisting and g-forces, cars change. And to get a measurement of .006 of an inch, a car has to be back in a sterile environment, on a leveled and properly installed surface plate, the same plate on which the chassis is certified. The plate will be a constant, and lasers are used to measure a section and provide an accurate, thousandths-of-an-inch measurement. There is no way to duplicate that check at any speedway in America. The sand and dust on the tires from rolling on the ground could make that difference and more. Another inspection performed by different people could eliminate the .006 variance.
Both of the cars Martin and Johnson raced this past weekend in Kansas were taken to NASCAR’s R&D Center again for inspection. They were found to be in compliance with the rules.
NASCAR used common sense to rule on the two Hendrick chassis. A warning is sufficient. The teams were trying to build the fastest racecar they could. They did and NASCAR informed them how far they can go on the rule tolerances. Chad Knaus and Alan Gustafson did not cheat and took all they were allowed. They shouldn’t be chastised but commended. There is a reason the 5 and 48 are first and second in the Chase. Maybe other crew chiefs should be paying more attention to what the Hendrick team does.