By admin | March 20, 2011
By Richard Allen
There is no doubt, whether contractually obligated or not, that NASCAR likes having full fields of cars in their Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series races. As a result, a number of so called â€˜start and parkâ€™ cars have briefly participated in virtually every event in those divisions for the last couple of seasons. Just as their name indicates, these cars start the race, run a few laps and then park for the rest of the day.
After a number of critical comments about the practice from fans and various media outlets, NASCAR began to more closely monitor the activities of these teams. Cars that ran only a few laps began to be confiscated and thoroughly inspected. However, the practice has continued, particularly in the Nationwide Series, where as many as six to eight cars may start and park in a typical event.
On Saturday in the Nationwide race at the Bristol Motor Speedway the issue came to a head when driver Jennifer Jo Cobb refused to start the Scottâ€™s EZ Seed 300 after the owner of 2nd Chance Motorsports told her she would have to go to the garage area shortly after the drop of the green flag. Rick Russell was forced to hurriedly find a replacement driver after Cobbâ€™s last minute decision.
â€œI have made a commitment to my sponsors, my fans and NASCAR that Iâ€™m not a start and park driver,â€ Cobb said in a television interview shortly after the start of the race. â€œI am really serious about this and I have to really work hard to prove to people that Iâ€™m serious about this.
â€œThe conversation was never had with me until 10 minutes before the race started that I was to start and park. I had already bought tires to run this race, so you can imagine it was a blow to both of my principles and my finances.â€
In a separate interview, Russell explained that he had incurred significant expenses after his car was crashed in Las Vegas and simply could not afford to run a full race in Bristol. He explained that he had discussed the matter with Cobb well before the timeframe put forth by her in the TV interview.
From that point a war of words ensued on the social network websites twitter and Facebook between the two sides. Scores of fans posted their support for Cobb on the two sites.
The ultimate issue here is not whether Cobb or Russell is right. There are actually multiple issues here.
First, the practice of starting and parking for the benefit of NASCAR being able to boast of full fields has been allowed to go on too long. Despite what some may say, start and park teams are not benefiting anyone. They are not bettering the sport nor are they bettering themselves. Probably, none of these teams are ever going to advance beyond their current state. The more likely fate for a start and park team is like that of 2nd Chance Motorsports than that of a successful race team.
A field of 36 cars intending to go the distance is preferable to a field of 43 that will have seven dropping off before the first round of pit stops.
Second, drivers and owners should actually be prepared before reaching the top levels of the sport. There are too many drivers in NASCARâ€™s top divisions who are there because they have someone willing to pay for them to be there rather than having earned their way. A driver should bring qualifications to the garage area other than a couple of sets of tires or a rebuilt engine. And along with these less than qualified drivers are less than qualified teams. In every race there seems to always be a couple if not more teams who do not even have a pit crew or equipment.
I am not saying that I only want teams like Hendrick or Gibbs. There are a number of teams such as Robby Gordonâ€™s or Front Row who are not necessarily contenders but at least intend to run full races. It would seem as though self respect would win out in more instances than has so far been the case.
I canâ€™t believe there hasnâ€™t been a Jennifer Jo Cobb vs. 2nd Chance Motorsports type scenario to have played out already. It will be interesting to see how this one ends up and what impact it has on the future of start and park.
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