By admin | August 31, 2009
By Richard Allen
Prior to the start of last week’s Sharpie 500 in Bristol I paid particular attention to one team. No, the team was not that of Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson or Mark Martin.
The team I was most focused on was the Prism Racing team of Dave Blaney. As it turned out, that crew’s pit stall was basically right in front of my seat in the grandstand. Oops, I said the word crew. The #66 team essentially did not have a crew. For that matter, they did not have much of a pit box and they had very few tires in their pit stall.
The reason for this seeming lack of preparation is that the team had no intention of going more than a few laps in the race. As a matter of fact, the #66 has only attempted to run one race this season to its full distance and that was the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte. In that race Blaney finished 28th, one lap down. The most laps this car has completed in any other race was 82 in Atlanta.
As it turns out, Blaney had qualified the car in the fourth position at Bristol, very impressive for a team with no intention of running the race distance. However, even with the solid qualifying run, Blaney immediately began his drop through the field at the drop of the green flag. He found himself in the way as numerous cars skirted around him, and even into him, before he was able to coast behind the pit wall and out of the race on lap 8.
The obvious question is why would any driver or any team want to do such a thing?
The obvious answer is…money. It can be highly profitable to be a ‘start and park’ team if the game is played correctly.
For running only 8 laps and finishing 43rd in Bristol the Prism team received just under $88,000. A 42nd place in Indianapolis brought in almost $142,000. Nice guys may finish last but apparently they are well rewarded for it.
NASCAR likes to brag that their Car of Tomorrow can be used at multiple tracks. Well, that is exactly what these teams are doing. Once the initial expense of buying a couple of cars and a couple of good motors is made then all that is left is for the team to make a few races to cover their costs. Of course, the cars have to be hauled to the track, a few crew members have to prepare the car and a driver will have to be contracted. But managed correctly, the cost of said preparations could come in far lower than $80,000 per race.
The gamble, of course, is in making races. However, if all of the above mentioned tasks are done well, then beating out two or three other cars on qualifying days is more than doable. Once races are made, profits can also be made.
Of all the components mentioned, perhaps the driver is the key element. But consider that with the trend toward younger and younger drivers by the super teams, talented older drivers can be found. A driver of Blaney’s caliber can be had for a reasonable price.
NASCAR has created its own mess in regard to the ‘start and park’ teams. The CoT’s much bragged about versatility allows these teams to field a minimum of cars and yet make race after race. Also, the lucrative pay for finishing near the bottom of the running order makes this practice enticing.
So why doesn’t NASCAR simply ban the practice? Well, they have declared that teams must have a crew in place at the start of races. However, the sanctioning body is painted into a bit of a corner, of its own doing. Their television contracts promise fields of 43 cars. So, they cannot truly discourage ‘starting and parking’. NASCAR has to have them.
The practice of ‘start and park’ may not seem entirely ethical, but it is profitable. The fans may be cheated because there are teams who show up at races with no intention of competing for anything more than a starting spot. And, any team who may want to run the distance but is beaten out in qualifying by one of these teams is cheated as well. However, the owners of these teams will certainly come out ahead financially.
In the end, the owners who take advantage of this situation are not entirely to blame. NASCAR, its tracks, its television partners and its power teams have allowed for this type thing to happen.
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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