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‘Start and Park’ teams just playing a profitable game

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.

Topics: Articles |

8 Responses to “‘Start and Park’ teams just playing a profitable game”

  1. Mick Says:
    September 1st, 2009 at 10:56 am

    It is worse in the NW series. Parson’s 90 and 91 displace even lower budget teams that really want to race. I have all the respect in the world for Morgan Shepherd who spends money to qualify and race versus that charlaton Parsons who puts all the money into qualifying with no intent to race. Parsons is a huxster and opportunist. NASCAR is his enabler. Drech

  2. grumpyoldman Says:
    September 1st, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    For one thing, NASCAR has repeatedly stated that there is no clause in any TV contract about the number of cars that must start a race.
    Secondly, this has always happened…always!!
    And some of these S & P’s are trying to build up enough capital to go full time, but sponsorship money is tight everywhere…just ask Bobby LaBonte.

  3. mrclause Says:
    September 1st, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    Your “profit” idea isn’t thought out with much real knowledge of the actual cost of the whole deal to these teams. You simply aren’t including any figures to back up your gripe. I think your big profit thinking would be shot down when you figured the actual cost of cars, engines, driver, hauler, insurances, tires, salaries, travel expenses, spare parts, shop, and on and on.

    As for the NW series, I’d much rather see new teams trying to build or rebuild, new drivers trying to break into the series, than I would watching the cup teams take all the sponsor dollars, use their cup knowledge and expertise, to rape the series so teams and drivers dedicated to the series don’t stand a chance. It’s no different than if the Redskins decided to go for a high school championship. I can’t understand how it can stroke the ego’s of the teams or drivers. It all has to do with big money, greed, bullies.

  4. Richard Allen Says:
    September 1st, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    MrClaus and grumpy

    I can only tell you these things. I know someone on the inside of the broadcast business(well known to many) who I will not name but he says the 43 car thing is in the TV contract. This person is definitely in a position to know.

    Again, along the same lines, I have been told the start and parks are making a profit. They would not be there if they weren’t. And, at least a couple are not looking to expand. They are simply taking advantage of a situation.

  5. Marybeth Wallick Says:
    September 1st, 2009 at 7:02 pm

    I’m with Mick #1. If they need to fill a field, I do have not problem with S & Ps. But, Morgan would run the whole race, on old tires, and there should be a way for him to be allowed into the race. I wonder if he had rain tires for qualifying in Montreal.

  6. scott wolfe Says:
    September 1st, 2009 at 8:08 pm

    I hate these start and park teams. I didn’t think NASCAR was that bad a few years back when they had trouble filling a field. I applaud drivers like Scott Riggs who didn’t want to settle for a start and park situation after being told they were going to “race” at TBR. He left and would rather not race than have his name associated with Start and Park. If you are a team owner looking to hire a driver, would you hire a start and parker?

  7. kebzach Says:
    September 1st, 2009 at 9:42 pm

    pretty sure that the #66 ran the full Daytona 500 with sponsorship from Window World. I agree in principle with your article, especially when it comes to the Phil Parsons jokes of teams, but you really need to get your facts in line.

  8. Marc Says:
    September 3rd, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    “However, the sanctioning body is painted into a bit of a corner, of its own doing. Their television contracts promise fields of 43 cars.”

    Is that really the case?

    Here is an Insider, who claims: “Now TC is an anonymous NASCAR crew member and I know he doesn’t know a thing about NASCAR’s TV contract (to be frank I’m not all that familiar with the details). This among many other things makes me believe their anonymous crew member was only repeating rumors he has heard. Personally I have heard this is either a myth or an exaggeration. Either way it does not sound like it is a fact.”

    Show me definitive proof and I’ll believe otherwise, ’til then this alleged contract stipulation in nothing more than smoke and mirrors.