While most of the conversation generated about the Snowball Derby should have centered around the pageantry and quality of racing from Sunday afternoon, the disqualification of initial winner Christopher Bell has left much of the industry at odds with one another.
In one camp lies those who feel that four winner disqualifications over the past decade has taken away from the integrity of the event, while others say Ricky Brooks’ hard-line approach to inspection is a benefit to the discipline.
As with most things, the reality is probably a sweet spot somewhere in the middle.
It’s clear in my mind that this was not an egregious act by Christopher Bell, crew chief Chris Gabehart and Kyle Busch Motorsports short track manager Bond Suss to circumvent the rules.
After winning the Derby, the biggest victory of his career, Bell took a victory lap around Five Flags Speedway, where his cooling tires acted as a magnet for the still-warm rubber built-up on the storied Florida half-mile.
His tires left-sides picked up a majority of the debris, accounting for the extra weight that appeared on the car from when it passed inspection on Sunday morning to it failing on Sunday night.
But the rules are the rules and Brooks doesn’t make room for exceptions or excuses.
Consider that on Friday afternoon prior to qualifying, Chase Elliott passed inspection and made weight, but opted to go over the scales again because crew chief Ricky Turner wanted to make some changes to build up a margin of error. Having failed post-race inspection in 2013 to lose the Snowball Derby, Elliott and Turner were willing to take no chances and that diligence may have won them the race on Sunday night.
These are some of the best engineers in the country, many of them having worked at the highest levels of NASCAR before returning to their roots for a weekend or over the past season. They’re also smart enough to know that this is the sort of thing that can happen when you send a car out on a victory lap on still-hot tires.
That’s not to vilify Bell and Gabehart, but it should serve as a warning moving forward to not take any unnecessary risks.
At the same time, perhaps Brooks could loosen up a little bit. While he gave the No. 51 team three different chances to make weight after the race, it was obvious to everyone that looked at the left front tire what had happened.
If Brooks had allowed the 51 to exchange all four race tires with rollers, it clearly would have made weight, but that also opens up all sorts of new avenues for teams to work with leading up to the race.
At the end of the day, having Ricky Brooks tech the Snowball Derby and do it with authority and zero exceptions is a benefit to short track racing. Despite the bitterness coming from a handful of stock car devotees, Brooks operates with zero bias and by the book.
No one likes disqualifications — they’re messy and complicated. But at the same time, no one likes an illegal car winning the biggest race of the year and that will never happen under Ricky Brooks.
The Derby is just fine the way it is.