At the beginning of June, Kyle Busch had his victory celebration in the NASCAR Xfintity race at Pocono Raceway muted when crew chief Eric Phillips was suspended and fined $10,000.
The No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota failed a postrace inspection for height requirements.
In a tweet, Busch responded “Roflmao!! What a joke. Too high?! That’s a disadvantage Incase any of u were wondering.”
Roflmao!! What a joke. Too high?! That’s a disadvantage Incase any of u were wondering. 🤦🏻♂️ https://t.co/hlC3vDRdgb
— Kyle Busch (@KyleBusch) June 2, 2018
Williamsport native and Penn State graduate John Probst wasn’t wondering.
As NASCAR’s vice president for innovation and racing development, Probst is charged with improving racing and competition across the racing series.
Making sure that the cars across the NASCAR racing series meet specifications is one of his most prominent week-to-week responsibilities.
“No matter which driver you’re a fan of, you want to know that your driver that weekend has as good a chance as any other driver out there and that another team was not able to get something through inspection that could create an uneven playing field,” said Probst, who graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, from Penn State, and a bachelor’s in physics from Bloomsburg University.
A height violation could be a fractions of an inch, but in these cars, that fraction can manipulate the dynamics in races that sometimes are decided by fractions of seconds.
“The reality is there is a lot of performance in a lot of these measurements,” said Probst, who previously was NASCAR’s managing director for competition and innovation before being promoted to his position on April 18. “If we put it at an inch, somebody is going to go 1.001 inches because there is performance in that. … Teams are going to go right up to that edge, and, unfortunately, once in a while, they go over it.”
This season, NASCAR began inspecting cars with what it calls the Optical Scanning Station. Developed by a company in Great Britain called Hawk-Eye Innovations, Probst says the system, “for lack of a better term is a big tent” that goes to the site of Monster Energy and Xfinity races.
Attached to the inner surface are 16 cameras and eight projectors. Another camera goes below the car to measure the underside.
In about a minute, a complete three-dimensional image, showing all of the physical measurements, is produced and so that cars be judged against the standards.
This process has cut hours off inspections that used to be manually.
Cars are inspected three times before each race. The top two finishers and other random cars are tested after the race.
Many spectators relate the enhancement of racing to the increaseed speed of cars. Probst says that thought is understandable, but too narrow.
“It’s not always just about the top speed,” he said. “You want to have a good race. It’s more about the action on the track – how many cars on the lead lap, is there quality passing of a top-15 car with another top-15?
“We don’t want cars all spread out. We want to help make the competition tighter, make the drivers race harder.”
It’s also not just about what is on the track.
“We’re always looking to engage our fans in a more active way – that’s fans in the stands, watching at home or in a supermarket checking out a race on their phone,” Probst said.
“We’re not terribly far away from a car connectivity project that is based on some cellphone technology that’s about to come onto the market.
“We’re talking about putting 360-degree cameras on these cars, so that fans watching can almost feel like they are sitting next to their favorite driver and see what he’s doing. As drivers and competitors, we sometimes forget that our job is to entertain.
“We’ll throw a green flag and a checkered one. Somebody will be the first driver through that checkered flag. We just hope the time between those two flags is as entertaining as we can make it.”
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