INSIGHT: Inside NASCAR’s inspection process

INSIGHT: Inside NASCAR’s inspection process

Insights & Analysis

INSIGHT: Inside NASCAR’s inspection process

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Inspection. As a noun in the dictionary, it’s a simple word with just as simple meaning. However, inspection in NASCAR is far from simple and never does mention of the word bring the warm and fuzzies to those who must cope with it.

When it comes to the Optical Scanning Station (OSS), inspection has brought a new set of challenges to race teams.

“It kind of changed everything and it took a while I think for everybody to figure it out,” Joe Gibbs Racing crew chief Cole Pearn told RACER of the OSS process.

Alan Gustafson of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports team said the OSS is not as straightforward as one might imagine. Fellow crew chief Chad Knaus of the No. 24 team agreed.

It has been one year now since NASCAR rolled out its latest and greatest inspection tool. The OSS replaced the Laser Inspection Station (LIS) and claw template station. Praised for getting teams through the processes much quicker, the OSS is a more thorough piece of equipment.

Set up in a black tent, the OSS consists of 16 cameras and eight projectors that create a 3D heat map of the vehicle. Green is good. Any other color requires a closer look for what could be out of compliance.

Alan Gustafson (Image by Nigel Kinrade/NKP/LAT)

“It’s an incredible piece of equipment,” said Gustafson. “The technology behind it is amazing, but there are some variances, and there are some things that aren’t just super-straightforward. If you build your car based on kind of a coordinate measuring system that we would use here, there are some views that cameras can’t get and there are some views that are slightly skewed, so there are some discrepancies between that.

“So, understanding in actuality and reality of where the part is and what the OSS interprets that to mean, there was some room there to work, for sure.”

HMS is one of the teams that has an OSS system at its shop. During a recent visit to its Concord, North Carolina campus, crew members revealed they use the system quite often while building their cars — even before and after wrapping them — to track how much the numbers might have changed as the car was continuously touched.

“It’s a unique system, and there is some drift in it, so you have to chase it throughout the season,” said Knaus. “And ‘drift’ just means as you break it down, reset it, break it down, reset it, things kind of change a little bit from location to location, so you’ve got to try to stay on top of that. Establishing those baselines early on and getting them put in place can be difficult.

“The other thing is as rules change, you’ve got to be able to adapt with the rules. Sometimes leniency drifts one way or another for a week or two, and then NASCAR gets on top of it, so then you’ve got to change to catch up all your fleet back to where they’re at.”

Mike Wheeler of Leavine Family Racing called the OSS a “game changer” and noted teams now have a tighter box in which to play. Todd Gordon of the reigning championship No. 22 group at Team Penske echoed those remarks and further explained how the tool has changed the way teams build cars.

For example, the old aluminum grid that would be placed over the cars was likely going to fit. Even if the cars weren’t purely like the grid NASCAR had, the car would adapt itself to it and teams spent years figuring out how far they could go with tolerances that would still fit the grid.

“That’s just racers,” Gordon said. “But now we came back to something that there’s a defined window of what you’ve got to work with and it’s a much smaller box. But within that window, there are things that you have to find that are sensitive … so what you need to focus on are different than what you had in the past.

The crew for Kyle Busch’s No. 18 attempt to pass inspection during qualifying at Fontana in 2018. (Image by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

“It wasn’t purely rigid, so prior to the OSS we could move panels around, we could manipulate cars, we could put things in different places … we could get parts offset to where they would be aerodynamically better. When the OSS came into play, it really defined the box a little bit better as to what the gross moves of any of the major components of the car could be and changed what you had to work on. You weren’t trying to manipulate the (old) grid as much as now because the repeatability of the OSS system is really good. It sees things the same way.

“Some guys got ahead of us in how aggressive they could get with using that three-thousandths of an inch window that they had to work in and what things would look like working in that, but as a whole, it’s a very repeatable inspection scale. It does the same thing to a car multiple times; but understanding how to work with it, what it saw, what it didn’t see, I think was the biggest learning curve for all the teams.”

Said Pearn, “It’s a lot more time in the shop, I know that. It’s way more work getting a car ready to go to the racetrack than what it was before. It’s forced you to have more quality control from just a legality standpoint. It’s forced you to have more quality control from a performance standpoint, too. It’s made [things] a lot more tedious, a lot more work — but if that makes competition closer, I don’t know. I still feel like it’s the same guys that are always rising to the top. Maybe it balances power between the manufacturers, but I don’t know. Either way, it’s just a lot more work, I’ll say that.”

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