WALTZ: What Exactly Is An Encumbered Finish?

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Encumbered Finish
Could a race winner in one of NASCAR’s three national divisions really lose a championship because of a few loose lug nuts? (NASCAR Photo)
Keith Waltz
Keith Waltz

HARRISBURG, N.C. — What the hell is an encumbered finish?

According to NASCAR officials, it’s when the race-winning car has three or more missing lug nuts or fails the post-race laser inspection by a “significant” amount.

If the winning car is ruled to have an encumbered finish, the victory stands but the benefits of the victory — automatic advancement in the Chase or the championship in the final race — are wiped out.

This latest addition to the NASCAR dictionary was introduced just before the start of the Chase when officials found themselves backed into a corner due to their ridiculously stringent post-race inspection process.

Post-race inspection issues are certainly nothing new in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing. In fact, they date back to 1949 and the very first race when Jim Roper inherited the victory after it was found Glenn Dunaway had won the race with “moonshiner” rear springs on his ’47 Ford.

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Somewhere along the line, NASCAR quit disqualifying race winners because officials didn’t want the paying customer in the grandstand to find out someone different had actually won the race by reading about it in the newspaper on Monday morning.

But under this unique formula, the risk/reward equation has been out of balance for many, many years. The penalty for winning a race with an illegal race car has long been less than the various rewards associated with scoring a victory at NASCAR’s highest levels.

Until the penalty for winning with an illegal car is greater than the reward, NASCAR’s extensive post-race inspection is simply an exercise in futility.

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Keith Waltz
Keith Waltz has written about auto racing since first joining the SPEED SPORT staff in January 1983. He has worked alongside racing legends Chris Economaki, Darrell Waltrip and H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler during his career.