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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