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What Are Inspections In NASCAR? (Full Explanation)

Inspections in NASCAR occur before and after a race. These inspections ensure a car matches NASCAR’s specifications and they didn’t win due to an unfair advantage. With that said, if you’re new to the sport, you may be wondering what these inspections in NASCAR entail. 

NASCAR inspections are a rigorous series of tests that, when passed, allow cars to practice and qualify for races. They occur for all cars before the race and select cars following the race. If a car is in violation of NASCAR’s specifications, consequences may include disqualification. 

Below, we will fully outline what pre-race and post-race NASCAR inspections are. We will also explore how NASCAR selects cars for post-race inspections, and how dire the consequences are if a car fails any of these inspections. 

What Are NASCAR Inspections?

NASCAR inspections are rigorous checks of all cars competing in the race, and also of some select cars after the race. They involve officials inspecting virtually every inch of the car. Even an unapproved car component or a loose bolt in some circumstances can result in a failed inspection.

You may live in a state that requires annual inspections for road cars. Or, you may live in a state that doesn’t, but when you get your oil changed or service provided to your car, you may receive some type of inspection as a service. NASCAR inspections are not necessarily like the inspections you would receive for your production car

Pre- and post-race inspections occur because NASCAR is set on keeping a level playing field. To do this, they must ensure no team is playing outside its specs. For example, NASCAR has strict engine specs, specs on how far teams can skew cars, and even specs on interior components. 

These pre- and post-race inspections often comprise different stations and they will vary slightly regarding what officials are looking for. Consequences for failed inspections also vary from pre-race to post-race.

How NASCAR Inspections Varied

The inspection process is altered when a new generation car design is introduced. So, the Generation 6 inspections were different from the inspections seen in 2022 for the Next Gen car. If you flash back to 2007 to 2012, the Car of Tomorrow (CoT) also had drastically different inspections. 

Besides each generation of car, inspections in NASCAR may also vary from year to year. Especially if the current generation of car is getting an upgraded feature. For example, the CoT’s features changed throughout its life span, which necessitated slight variations in their inspections. 

You may be able to say the same for the Next Gen cars. In 2024, NASCAR plans to move to a hybrid model. With the new hybrid feature, you can expect a different inspection setup. 

Different Officials For Different Series

In 2019, NASCAR announced a revamped inspection format. They implemented a model that used series-specific inspectors. These inspectors specialize in either the Truck, Xfinity, or NASCAR Cup Series

This made it easier for inspectors to find and report violations since each vehicle differed from one another. Something that became paramount when the Cup Series introduced the Next Gen car. These cars vary dramatically from their Xfinity and Truck Series counterparts. 

Who Does NASCAR Inspections?

NASCAR officials conduct the inspections, and they must have no biases for or against specific drivers, teams, manufacturers, or their corporate sponsors. Doing so will result in serious consequences from the sanctioning body, as these inspections are designed to be standardized. 

These inspectors’ jobs don’t end just because they finished inspecting all 36 to 40 cars for a NASCAR Cup Series race. They also serve as the race’s officials, and they analyze each car every time they pit or go behind the wall into the garage area. 

You may have seen random people standing near a pit box wearing fire suits with the NASCAR logo on their front. These are the race officials who were earlier inspecting the car. Others will monitor each pit stop from a trailer and issue penalties for various types of infractions. 

During the race, they are further responsible for enforcing intra-race rules, like pit road speed and ensuring the used tires make contact with the pit wall. These officials also hand out and enforce penalties for any driver that drew a black flag. 

NASCAR Pre-Race Inspections Explained

The pre-race inspection comprises stations that NASCAR teams must pass. If the car passes one station but fails another, it results in a failed inspection. To receive the go-ahead to practice, qualify, and start the race, cars must pass each station in a single inspection. 

Station 1 occurs when the car leaves its hauler in pre-race. NASCAR officials elevate the car and inspect the inside, underneath, the nose, and the rear. At Station 2, officials use a handheld template to inspect the rest of the body. This visual inspection helps ensure the car meets NASCAR’s standards. 

Station 3 is the most basic of the 5 pre-race inspection stations. It deals with ensuring the car meets the required height and weight standards. 

Optical Scanning Station 

Station 4 comprises the Optical Scanning Station (OSS). Introduced in 2018, the OSS provides a three-dimensional heat map of the car’s chassis and body. NASCAR officials compare this map to a computer rendition of each manufacturer: Chevy, Ford, and Toyota. 

The computerized template shows what NASCAR expects each car to look like versus the car being inspected. Once compared, they print out a sheet of paper that depicts the car’s comparison to the expectation model. If the color on the paper is green, the car passed. If red, it failed. 

Final Station

In Station 5, NASCAR officials check the car’s safety features, like the seatbelts, HANS device, and driver cockpit. They ensure all the vital functions of the car are in order and once everything is complete, they will give their final pass or fail grade. 

On many weekends, NASCAR conducts support races with the Xfinity and sometimes the Truck Series. Cars are escorted to the starting grid if there is no support race. If a support race occurs that weekend, they are taken to an impound location until those races end.   

Purpose Of The Pre-Race Inspection

NASCAR conducts pre-race inspections not just to ensure safety, but also to ensure no car has a competitive advantage heading into qualifying. Historically, drivers who qualify well perform better during a race and they have faster cars overall. 

NASCAR prides itself on driver skill, and therefore allows no driving assists like traction control or anti-brake locking. They also grow stricter with their specifications with each new car design. 

When each car passes a pre-race inspection, NASCAR officials, fans, drivers, and teams all know the pole-sitter earned their spot, regardless of the qualifying format. The same goes for the other cars that won their respective place on the starting grid. 

NASCAR Post-Race Inspections Explained

Usually, between 1.5 and 2 hours after a NASCAR event concludes, select cars will undergo post-race inspection. A NASCAR official escorts the car to the post-race inspection area, ensuring teams do nothing to the car between the end of the race and the inspection. 

Before, NASCAR conducted post-race inspections in Concord, NC, at their Research & Development Center. However, in 2019, NASCAR took a stricter approach and started conducting post-race inspections on the track

If the winning car passes the post-race inspection, NASCAR declares the driver the winner, and they are cleared to return to their haulers and head back to team headquarters. But if they fail, NASCAR will dish out some penalties. 

Are All NASCAR Cars Inspected After Every Race?

While NASCAR inspects all cars before every race and they keep a close watch on cars during a race, they do not inspect each car following the race. NASCAR does not inspect most cars. Often only those who finish near the top plus a handful of random cars are inspected.

These inspections occur following the race, and once the cars pass their inspection, they are then officially credited with their finishes. If they fail inspection for any reason, they will face consequences and NASCAR will inspect another group of cars. 

If those cars pass inspection, they will be credited with a higher finish than their unofficial result following the race. The next 2 sections outline which NASCAR cars are inspected and what happens to those cars that fail post-race inspection. 

Which NASCAR Cars Are Inspected After The Race?

NASCAR takes the top 2 finishers’ cars, plus a random car, and inspects them after the race. If the cars fail inspection, NASCAR will hand out appropriate penalties and conduct another round of inspections on other cars to ensure there is no wide scale foul play. 

Suppose NASCAR fails the top 2 finishers. They would then take the cars that finished third and fourth, respectively, and put them through the same rigorous post-race inspection. If the car that finished third passed the inspection, they are declared the official winner

But if the fourth-place car fails the inspection, NASCAR will penalize them and they will inspect the fifth-place car. If the car that finished fifth passes, they will be rewarded with a second-place finish

What Happens If NASCAR Cars Fail Inspections?

If a NASCAR car fails inspection, NASCAR will give the driver a penalty. NASCAR’s penalties have become more severe in recent seasons. It is important to remember that there are different tiers of failure. Consequences for pre-race inspections differ from intra- and post-race inspection penalties. 

Pre-Race Inspection 

Starting with failed pre-race inspections, NASCAR teams must fix the issue following the first offense and they are good to go. 

But if they fail a pre-race inspection twice, then the car will start from the rear of the field. Since 2019, NASCAR’s penalties include suspending the crew chief for the current race after a second failed inspection. 

If they fail an issue a third time during the same weekend, NASCAR penalizes the team with a pass-through. This results in the car passing through pit road on the first or the opening laps, which forces them to usually fall at least 1 lap down. 

Further, if a car fails inspection before qualifying 3 times, the team will be barred from qualifying, forcing them to start from the rear. If they fail a pre-qualifying inspection twice, the crew chief will still miss the race and NASCAR docks the team 15 minutes worth of practice time. 

Intra-Race Penalties

It would be inconvenient for NASCAR to conduct rigorous inspections during a race. But with the officials watching each car’s every move, they will penalize teams for infractions like loose equipment on the car. 

Most intra-race penalties occur, however, because of driver or crew errors, like speeding down pit road, driving through too many pit stalls, or too many crew members hopping over the wall to provide service to the car. 

NASCAR often penalizes teams depending on the race’s situation. If the race is occurring under caution, the offending team’s car must move to the rear. But if the penalty occurs during green flag laps, NASCAR officials will show the driver of that team a black flag. 

NASCAR will nominally inspect damaged vehicles during a race. This inspection comprises a crash clock 6 minutes in length. If a car sustains damage, they have 6 minutes to return to the track and drive at minimum speed. If the car cannot reach minimum speed, they are out of the race. 

Post-Race

NASCAR teams that go through the post-race inspection and fail now face dire consequences. They will disqualify drivers whose cars fail and credit them with a last-place finish, which by extension docks them stage and playoff points. 

This is a rare occurrence. Until 2019, the last winning driver to be disqualified was Emanuel Zervakis. In June 2019, NASCAR disqualified Ross Chastain after he won a Truck Series event at the Iowa Speedway. 

Controversial Rule Changes

Some may see NASCAR’s policy of declaring a driver disqualified if they fail post-race inspection as too extreme. Before 2019, the offending car or truck was just docked a playoff berth and points, but they kept their win

However, if the driver won a second race and passed inspection, they were once again eligible for the playoffs. Such a scenario occurred in 2017 for Joey Logano, who missed the playoffs because he had just 1 regular season win that resulted in a failed inspection. 

In 2018, Kevin Harvick won 8 times but failed 2 post-race inspections. He still made the playoffs because of his multiple wins. The new rule was met with controversy because offending teams could have failed an inspection for a part that may not have augmented the vehicle in any way, yet still lost their win. 

Final Thoughts

NASCAR inspections are a rigorous series of tests to ensure a car meets NASCAR’s specifications. If cars fail any inspection, NASCAR will hand out appropriate consequences that may include disqualification. Inspections vary from year to year, often when NASCAR unveils a new car design.