There is no race without inspection.
NASCAR requires all Cup Series teams to pass inspection before even hitting the track on any given race weekend. If a team does fail, it must fix the issue and repeat the process all over again until it does pass. There are penalties for repeat offenders, too. Here is a quick outline of the NASCAR inspection stations and process:
Station 1: Car is elevated to visually inspect the nose, under the body and inside.
Stations 2-3: Body is visually inspected using a handheld template to ensure the body conforms to regulations.
Station 4: Optical scanning is used to inspect the chassis and body of car.
Station 5: Holding blocks are removed and final safety inspection is done.
Why do NASCAR inspections happen
The point of inspection is to level the sport’s playing field as much as possible. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the frequency of inspection since most races became one-day shows, but not really the process itself.
The 5 NASCAR inspection stations
There are five inspection stations, and all five must be completed each time, even with a failure.
As soon as cars come off the hauler, they roll to the chassis platform for Template 1. Here, several areas of the car are inspected while elevated — all of the inside, underneath for the splitter and other parts of the body, like the nose, that are easier to look at lifted.
First, a handheld Template 2 is put on the car to visually inspect the body. This leads straight into the heights and weights portion, which is pretty self-explanatory.
The Optical Scanning Station (OSS) is new as of 2018 and analyzes both the chassis and the body of a car at the same time. The tented inspection bay uses cameras and projectors to create a three-dimensional heat map of a particular car that can be compared to the computer-aided drawing for each manufacture — basically reality vs. expectation. Once done, the OSS machine will spit out a sheet with a number and color: green means pass, red means fail.
In the final station, the blocks or pieces used to hold the car at height are taken out. Then, last but certainly not least, a safety inspection is done.
It normally takes three hours to get all cars through inspection the first time. The total time depends on the number of failures. COVID-19 protocols allow five hours for inspection.
If there is no support race — neither the Xfinity Series nor the Craftsman Truck Series is racing — the Cup Series cars will then be taken straight to the grid after passing inspection. If there is a support race, the cars are brought back to the garage and left in a pre-determined impound location. A NASCAR official will escort teams regardless (regardless of what).
Teams that do not pass inspection will go back to the garage, address the failure and attempt inspection again. Multiple failures can result in an immediate punishment, such as a crew member being ejected. Teams are equipped with the penalty rules, but those are also subject to change depending on the failure. There is an up-front disclaimer: “This chart represents the minimal achievable penalties for inspection failures.”
Post-race inspection with the top-three cars is similar, but there are no Templates 1 and 2. Cars go straight to the heights and weights check and continue on through the stations. There is a larger tolerance window after the race given the beating and banging of competition.
Lastly, NASCAR completes a post-race teardown at the track rather than the Research & Development Center in Concord, North Carolina, like in the past.
A failure in post-race inspection is an automatic disqualification. The process normally takes an hour and a half for all three cars.
Sometimes, NASCAR will choose cars to take back to the R&D Center, but that’s more for engine education than anything else.
Additional note: Since the Next Gen car’s 2022 debut, NASCAR’s current inspection process has not undergone significant changes.