By admin | March 19, 2008
NASCAR should stop the swap
By Richard Allen
In NASCAR’s scoring system points are awarded to both the driver and the car owner. A driver can be awarded a championship at the end of a season, but so can a car owner. Evidence of this split system was shown in the Nationwide Series last year. Carl Edwards, who drives for Roush Fenway Racing, won the series points championship although a car owned by Richard Childress Racing, which used multiple drivers, scored more points than the RFR car.
When it comes to deciding who will be included in the Chase for the Championship driver points serve as the determining factor.
However, when deciding what teams are guaranteed starting positions in each race owner points are used.
As if that is not confusing enough, other elements have been added to the owner/driver points situation.
In 1991 NASCAR instituted a so called past champion’s provisional starting position. This rule was created to allow a former Sprint Cup Series champion to be included in a race even if that driver failed to qualify on speed.
The rule was a noble idea at first. Richard Petty was nearing the end of his career and was having difficulty qualifying for races. He even missed a Richmond race in 1989.
The rule allowed fans to bid “The King” a fond farewell. Since then, however, the past champion’s free pass has been used and abused to the point that it is almost shameful.
To add to the misuse of the provisional, some teams have, or at least have considered, switching points from a car driven by a past champion to another car outside the Top 35 in the owner’s standings.
This past off season Penske Racing took the points from the #2 car driven by Kurt Busch, who finished 7th overall in 2007, and gave those points to the #77 car driven by rookie Sam Hornish. Penske was able to do this because of the past champion’s provisional. If Busch failed to make a race on speed, he could fall back on his 2004 championship status and be locked into the field that way while the #77 car would be locked into the first five races because of Busch’s points from last year.
Now that the first five races are over, the guaranteed positions for each race are determined by this year’s standings.
Two teams which employ past champions find themselves with a car outside the Top 35 and thus at risk of not making a show. Petty Enterprises driver Kyle Petty currently sits 40th in points while his teammate, 2000 champ Bobby Labonte, resides in 18th. Labonte’s points could be passed from the #43 team to the #45 team and thus assure both cars a starting spot in Martinsville.
Also, Roush Fenway driver Jamie McMurray finds himself in 36th place. RFR driver Matt Kenseth, currently 11th, won a championship in 2003 and could have his points moved to the #26 team.
So far, neither team has indicated that a swap is imminent. However, when sponsors begin to apply pressure and owners start losing money it is almost certain that some team will take advantage of the system like Penske already has.
Two other teams are on the brink of having drivers fall out of the Top 35. Hendrick Motorsports’ Casey Mears is 33rd, barely ahead of the 35th place. Also, Penske’s Hornish is 35th. HMS has two former champions in Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson while Penske has Busch.
NASCAR needs to end point swapping before it gets as far out of hand as the past champion’s provisional. If a team wants to do this type of thing the drivers involved should be made to change car numbers, which would not be popular with sponsors who have invested in billboards and other advertising using a certain number.
Better yet, NASCAR should just go ahead and do away with the past champion’s guarantee. It has outlived its usefulness. Every year at this time rumors start to circulate about drivers like Terry Labonte and Bill Elliott moving to certain teams just for the sake of getting a car into a race.
In a previous column I asserted that NASCAR should offer certain assurances, although 35 cars receiving a guarantee seems a bit high. By allowing that many cars to be certain of a starting spot NASCAR is doing its part to protect owners and their investments. Nothing more is necessary.
NASCAR should stop the swap.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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