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Has NASCAR finally taken a stand on ’start and park’

By admin | February 23, 2010

By Richard Allen

It would seem logical to think that every team that goes to the trouble of qualifying for a NASCAR Sprint Cup or Nationwide Series race does so with the intention of at least trying to win. However, as has been well documented over the last year or so, that is not always the case.

In both of NASCAR’s top series’ there are a number of so called ‘start and park’ cars in the field every week. These are cars fielded by teams who have no intention of running the race’s full distance. They simply qualify for the race, run a minimal number of laps and then pull into the garage with some sort of mechanical ‘issue’.

Why do this? Well, ‘starting and parking’ can be somewhat lucrative. Last week, Prism Motorsports pocketed just over $160,000 in the Auto Club 500 by employing this strategy with both of their cars. That’s just as much as Matt Kenseth made for running the entire race and finishing seventh.

Prism’s #66 Toyota driven by Dave Blaney qualified 5th fastest and led three laps of the race before retiring on lap 43. Their #55 car of Michael McDowell had stopped just a few laps earlier. It was reported that both cars suffered engine failure.

After the race in California it appears as though NASCAR finally decided to take a stand on the ‘start and park’ issue. The #66 car was confiscated and likely will not be returned in time for qualifying this week in Las Vegas. That means the team will have to use its one and only backup car.

Here is the difficulty in this situation as I see it.

On one side NASCAR wants every team that enters a race to make a legitimate attempt to do their best. The paying customers are not getting their full monies worth if four, five or six of the 43 starters intend to do nothing more than run a few laps then head for the hauler.

On the other hand, who can really blame someone for taking advantage of a situation that can offer nice financial rewards if managed properly? NASCAR has gone so far out of its way to reward showing up that this is not a surprising result. Points are awarded in such a way that winners are not given a decisive advantage over non-winners and money is doled out so as not to create a huge disparity throughout the field.

One friend of mine who is a casual follower of racing often refers to NASCAR as a sort of sports socialism, meaning everyone is rewarded so evenly it is difficult to tell the winners from the losers.

NASCAR competition director John Darby said that the sanctioning body can’t try to “outguess the teams” as to which cars actually intend to ‘start and park’ each week.

I attended two races last year in which I specifically paid attention prior to the race in the garage and pit areas to the teams who appeared to be ‘start and park’ candidates. There were teams that had qualified for the race which had no tires mounted up in their pit stalls and only three of four crew members on hand. Now, I don’t claim to be an expert on anything but I was able to “outguess” those particular teams on each occasion.

The way I see it NASCAR has four options as to what they might do in the case of ‘start and parks’.

First, they can continue with the status quo. Inspect those cars just like they would any other car to be sure they are not doing anything illegal to get into the race. Then, allow them to run a few laps, call it a day and collect their checks. This would most likely assure the sanctioning body of having full 43 car fields every week.

Second, they could tell teams that if they show up with only minimal equipment and crew members and thus make it obvious they have no intention of running a full race they can still do so but the amount of money paid out for the bottom finishing positions will be cut in half, especially if the reason listed for the car dropping out of the race does not appear to be legitimate.

Third, they could inspect the pit areas of each team before a race. If there are not enough tires and crew members to complete the race distance that team could be told to go ahead and load up. An alternate qualifier could even be kept on hand to fill the place of any team that was sent home.

Paying less money to lower finishing positions is also an option. In other words rewarding good performance more than bad but that would go against the ‘new’ American way, wouldn’t it?

In my opinion any of these options other than the first would solve the problem.

By confiscating the #66 car after the race in California NASCAR may have finally taken a stand in the ‘start and park’ situation. And in true NASCAR form, no one knows what that stand actually is.

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Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly columns appear in The Mountain Press and The Knoxville Journal.

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14 Responses to “Has NASCAR finally taken a stand on ’start and park’”

  1. Mick Says:
    February 24th, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    Either cut the payout for the bottom feeders, or pay out only by laps completed. ie $160,000 / 2 cars / 500 laps = $160 per lap.
    I have totally lost respect for Phil Parsons. Like to see him removed from the Truck series broadcast team. He gamed the system with two chronic non finishers in NNWS and now he’s gaming the Cup series. After five races of this crap, take away the license. Morgan Shepherd sets up his car to qualify and race. I hate to see him miss a race while Parsons-Humprey scam is profitable.

  2. mrclause Says:
    February 24th, 2010 at 12:21 pm

    Where do you people come up with the “start and parks” being a lucrative deal for those teams? There is a shop to operate out of, there are the back up parts, the engine rental/cost, the purchase of the cars, the insurances, the salaries, the transporter, and fifty other things that cost money. Where is there a profit margin? Simply put, there isn’t any.

    Haven’t you heard Tommy Baldwin say how he’s invested his life savings in his team? Joe Nemechek? And who among these folks that everyone seems to want to outlaw are previous winners just at the cup level. Baldwin, Nemechek, Parsons, come on folks. These are people that have years of investment in the sport and are trying to survive in the sport. Trying to build into a winning team.

    I’ve been inside and outside this sport since the sixties and there have always been those teams that seldom if ever could hope to run up front. We now praise those guys for what they tried to do. Then we trash those same types of teams in today’s world. There have always been the haves and the have not’s, it’s the nature of NASCAR. Always has been, can’t be any other way. Go ask the Petty’s, Jr Johnson, all the old school teams what they did with the parts they changed out after a race or two. They were sold or given to those teams that were the start and parks of that time period.

    Qualifying determines who races, who tries to race. Not the size of the teams wallets. If you want to see real racers, those with real dedication and desire, take another look at the back of the pack.

    Rich if you want to do something constructive, get with one of the start and park teams and get their race by race cost vs the purse money they earn. It won’t take long to see that it’s survival not profit making that is driving these guys, these teams.

    The media has made this into an issue that is much ado about nothing and a slap in the face to some really good RACERS! Most teams began this way, go talk to Richard Childress.

  3. Charles Says:
    February 24th, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    Nascar has much more important things to worry about than start and park!

    They need to address ‘bigger problems” with the sport LIKE FANS STARTING TO PARK!!!!

    Here again they micro manage and pick on a small team with limited resoures! They are suppose to check the cars before a race anyway then go to great lengths at the finish of a race to reinspect cars and create doubt!

    In my way of thinking the “consistent winners” are the ones they need to pay attention to as far as cheating! Plus I dont think all the cheating is at the race track!!!!

    When they start the final races for the Chase, thats when you see a ‘take a top 5′ its this type of senerio thats is Starting to Park with fans!!!!!!!

  4. Richard Allen Says:
    February 24th, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    Mr Clause

    The Prism #66 team has stated that they have no back up parts. They will now be forced to buy or borrow some for this week since NASCAR has their one working car.

    As far a shop goes the cars being housed in a shop, a huge ‘Garage Mahal’ is not needed. As a matter of fact, the cars are prepared under the care of MWR.

    One engine will suffice as long as it doesn’t blow. And using for only a few laps at a time will keep it in good enough shape to use over and over. And most likely, they have leased a used engine which cuts down on the cost.

    The bottom line is, no one would go to the trouble of doing all this if they weren’t at least breaking even. It’s too big of a risk.

    Ever wonder why Nemechek fields both a Cup and Nationwide car if he is in such financial trouble?

    As I said in the article, I can’t really hold it against these guys for making money by playing the game. I’m just saying that maybe the game needs to be changed up a bit.

  5. Richard Allen Says:
    February 24th, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    Charles, I do agree that there are bigger issues, but this is an issue.

  6. rich Says:
    February 24th, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    nascar started this ,and now they can’t handle it.make your big name teams give up one of their 5or 6 sponsers to these teams.

  7. midasmicah Says:
    February 24th, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    When I hear that Prism’s two cars pulled in $160,000 while running less then 80 laps between them and then hear that Matt Kenseth gets around $160,000 while completing every lap and finishing in the top ten, there’s something wrong with the picture. I know Matt runs for a big team, but something’s gotten out of kilter here. Money is money.

  8. mrclause Says:
    February 24th, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    Rich, you aren’t making any sense. In one sentence you say they are breaking even. In another you say it’s lucrative, sorry it can’t be both.

    You can’t not compare cost vs winnings. Especially when your claims are that it’s a lucrative venture.

    There are costs that are there every week. It may be at cut rate prices but they are still there. If nothing else it’s the transporter and those related costs, team licenses, entry fee’s, tires, just because you’ve bought the car doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be shown as a weekly or by race cost. This has to be business, even if in a one car shop or garage, that has weekly cost. Talk directly to the teams and your thinking might change, reality might change.

    For the record, I was deeply involved in the old late model sportsman class (now the Nationwide series) I’ve lived going to the track knowing what we had that week wasn’t right much less the best, when we knew our chances were slim to none. I also lived that very same team being the series Champs within a couple of years of that. So I’ve seen both sides.

    Now, ever heard the names Scott, McDuffie, Childress, Earnhardt, just to name a few? At points in their history they were what is called start and parks today. Where would we be without them today? I was a groceries or parts racer and am proud of it and that time in the sport.

    You maintain that these teams are an issue for NASCAR, for the fans. Okay, explain how? What harm are they causing? Nascar has 43 positions open. The top teams have 35 of those locked up. The remaining, excepting a past Champion, qualify on speed from the car, the driver. Where is the problem. Each team has earned one of those positions and the others that didn’t that day, for whatever reason, go home to hopefully try again. I would much rather see these guy’s trying and continuing the spirit of the sport than have them replaced with more Hendricks, Roushes,Gibbs, that have found our sport to be lucrative and made it so the little guy has no chance or very little chance, to climb to the top. Now it makes people angry that they even dare try. Whacked dude!

  9. Steve Says:
    February 24th, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    I agree wholeheartly with post #2. Its asanine to think that these guys are benefiting financially from this. You make is sound like if a full season sponsor asked to be put on their car, they would refuse because they are doing so well financially starting and parking. You need to look at the big picture people, not just them cashing checks at the end of the day.

    I like to use the example of the 36 car when responding to these ridiculous articles about this being lucrative for them. They were start and park all last year. But guess what? They have a full time sponsor now and from what I hear are going to run the whole schedule. No start and park. Looks like starting and parking last year worked for them. And I firmly beleive that they guys starting and parking this year are working towards that very same thing.

    If this is so easy to do and so lucrative, why aren’t more fans building Cup cars and taking them to Las Vegas this weekend?

  10. Richard Allen Says:
    February 24th, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    I believe my exact words were “The bottom line is, no one would go to the trouble of doing all this if they weren’t AT LEAST breaking even.”

    AT LEAST meaning that is a worst case scenario.

    I also said it is “Somewhat lucrative” meaning there is not an immense profit there but there is some. Certainly, they are not Hendrick or Roush who have sponsors footing virtually their entire bill and I’m sure they would like to be.

    I’m glad you have such a high opinion of me to think that one of these teams would open their books to me and allow me to decide for myself whether they are profiting or not. Of course, I would imagine they would tell me it is not but I’d rather they show it.

    Phil Parsons has been around racing his entire life. Spending money out of his own pocket just to lose more money would be stupid. He is not stupid.

  11. midasmicah Says:
    February 24th, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    A pause for marclause. These cars would not be comming all the way to California unless they were going to make money. Let’s be at least a little realistic here.

  12. mrclause Says:
    February 24th, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    It wasn’t many months ago that someone on one of these sites did break down the costs I wish I could remember who it was. You still avoided the question, what and who is being hurt by this? At least part of the purse goes to the little guys. They at least qualify on speed, they HAVE to earn their way into a race.

    How about this? You walk up to Tommy Baldwin and tell him to his face that his team being what it is, is harmful to the sport. That response I want to see. Do you want to cut the field down to 36 cars? Why, what is the benefit? Not a single member of the media or a reasonable fan with any long time knowledge of the sport has given any viable reason for disallowing an under funded team. It is a part of the sport, it is not harmful to it. It should become a dead issue because it isn’t a real one.

  13. Richard in N.C. Says:
    February 24th, 2010 at 6:57 pm

    Personally I have no problem with Tommy Baldwin and Joe Nemechek since they do race when they can and I am convinced they S&P only when they need to do so to afford to race another day. My gripe is with outfits like MSRP who appear to always show up just to qualify for the money with no intent of actually racing - and thereby knock out real racers , like Morgan Shepherd. In 2009 Shepherd made 21 races, ran 3,450 laps, and had winnings of $512,603. On the other hand, Johnny Chapman driving for MSRP made 28 races, ran a total of 194 laps (about 7 laps per race), and had winnings of $495,746. I think some sizeable part of the purse needs to be paid out based on the number of laps run - and maybe part of every team’s winnings needs to be paid out after qualifying in the form of 3 or 4 sets of tires. Oh yes, I am a Morgan Shepherd fan and biased.

  14. Palmetto Says:
    February 27th, 2010 at 9:32 am

    Rich, you didn’t mention a fifth option: cut the field sizes.

    There’s nothing sacred about the number 43 (unless its on a ‘Petty blue’ car). Cut the Cup series to 40 cars, Nationwide to 36, and Trucks to 32. NASCAR would save time and money not inspecting cars that aren’t going to run, and not paying for pit officials only needed for a few laps. Factor in a ‘laps completed’ component to the payout, like midasmicah suggested. Split the remaining purse money up between the remaining positions, and rebalance the payouts so they better correspond to finishing order.