Wednesday, March 23, 2011

No Parking

NASCAR needs to post these signs as conspicuously all around
the track as the county puts them all along lover's lane.

80,000 per Cup race

43 car field for all races only since 1998

TEN cars quit at Bristol and pocketed $423,342 in purse money.

The Jennifer Jo Cobb controversy from this past weekend’s competition at Busch Motor Speedway has finally brought much needed attention to the absurd practice permitted by NASCAR car owners can enter cars into NASCAR competition by qualifying for the field. On race day, their drivers are ordered to quietly pull to the back of the field and then exit the field no later than the first pit stop. At the end of the race, they are awarded their share of the prize money more than enough to pay expenses for the entry and to pocket a nice little profit while sticking the competitive integrity of the sport right in the eye.

The fundamental creed of sports is that competitors play to win. In baseball and football, there are some very stingy owners who don’t invest in paying for the kind of talent needed to win, but their teams play the entire game, and don’t tell the players they’re not there to compete. Even a Detroit Lion or Pittsburgh Pirate will put his heart and soul into playing the best game possible knowing that if he performs well, there will be opportunities on other teams.

It doesn’t work that way in NASCAR. To complete a race, a team needs a full pit crew, an adequate supply of replacement tires, and other necessities. The cheapskate baseball or football teams might have fewer coaches and expend a lot less money behind the scenes, but on game day, the dugout or bench has a full team ready to play. If a driver accepts the preposterous assignment of driving for a “start and park” owner, he’s not giving any ownership groups a glimpse of what talent he might have as a competitor. If anything, such a driver devalues his talent functioning basically as a scab who could force out drivers who do want to compete but being outside of the top 35 in points might have had some mishap not to post a good enough qualifying time to beat the “slug” entries.

No one makes a better villain than Nationwide owner, Rick Russell. Any sense that this man had any regard for competition never got the slightest glimmer in his media comments concerning events involving Saturday’s race. His attitude was essentially, “This is my toy and I’ll do with it whatever I want to. I’m the boss, and you do it my way.” Beneath the bravado there were equal parts self-pity and pure BS. It also came out that he spent all of about a few minutes ever communicating with his driver. He had no interest in her accomplishments. She was just a replaceable part, maybe as valuable to him as a lug nut. His race car was worth much much more. How ironic is it that he’s named his operation “Second Chance Racing.” It looks more like an operation where drivers would suit up and watch their careers die.

To make “start and park” look noble, sympathizers trot out Joe Nemechek. The 1992 Busch Series champ entered Cup racing in 1994 where for the rest of the decade into the early 2000’s was essentially a journeyman driver racing for Larry Hendricks, his own team, SABCO, Andy Petree, Haas-Carter, MB2 (Ginn) and Furniture Row racing. During the run, he gained four victories including a double Busch and Cup sweep at Kansas in 2004. He always proved a tough qualifier winning ten poles in his Sprint Cup career. His NASCAR career was part of a family affair with his mom dressed in Army fatigues when he ran with US Army sponsorship, maintained the stopwatch and clipboard, an integral part of the team’s support crew. The close family ties augmented by tragedy when early in the Truck series’ history, his younger brother John died in wreck early in the 1997 season at the Homestead Florida track. John had even been Joes’ front tire changer early in Joe’s Cup career. From Ginn’s acquisition of MB2 racing in 2006, Joe became odd-man out at season’s end. The financially troubled team cut back. Nemechek bounced around ending up with Furniture Row racing where he’d complete the season and race the following year. Nemechek posted the team’s best ever performances, but after the 2008 season, thus could only afford to enter part time, Nemechek released from his contract and the family developed its own team for 2009. Unable to attract sponsorship, Nemechek made the fatal mistake of electing to “start and park.” At first through the 2009 series he could symbolize the hard times of the sport – a fellow determined to stretch out his career at any cost, but as time went by into the 2010 season and beyond, his continued presence has become a sad and disgusting joke. Joe Hardy was no longer a New York Yankees star, just a sad old man who sold his soul to the devil alone in his easy chair.

Joe Nemechek’s sympathetic situation does not justify what amounts to scab drivers running for carpet bagging owners. SpeedTV (a Fox network subsidiary) employs Phil Parsons who with his business partner, Brian Humphrey operates one of the most notorious operations fielding both the #60 and #66 teams in Sprint Cup series. Tommy Baldwin was a crew chief for Bill Davis racing who sought to stay in the series becoming an underfunded owner who quickly saw the money making potential of serving as a start and park owner as his in.

NASCAR truly doesn’t get it even though its track owners are footing the bill for the practice and has anyone noticed Pike’s Peak, Gateway, and Memphis speedways no longer operate?

The most recent statement NASCAR his issued on the matter came last April:

“It doesn't impact the quality of competition whatsoever. NASCAR has always been about teams having the opportunity to participate in our sport; some teams might not have the full complement of resources to compete at the same level as others, but it's all about having an opportunity."

The usually PR savvy folks in the France dynasty clearly don’t get it. If Major League Baseball used that logic, they’d have a franchise in Bristol Connecticut with some local diner proprietor as team owner fielding his teams with recruits from a beer softball team. It just doesn’t make sense.

Maintaining a full field of 43 cars has only been a requirement since 1988. Short tracks typically fielded s much smaller starting lineup. Back during Dale Earnhardt’s glory days was there any fuss that the field was too small. Things would be better with 43 cars at Martinsville instead of 36? Either way, Earnhardt would blow the tires off anyone who dared challenge the mighty #3 Chevrolet.

The money is astonishing. Were a cup entry able to qualify for all 36 races and just hang it up, the team could pull in over $2.8 million. The margin drops tremendously for Nationwide teams who’d only pull in around $650,000. For trucks, the math doesn’t add up, they’d only pull in around $200,000 for the year. One wreck would kill their fortunes. As a result, there are fewer true start and parks in the Truck series but they don’t always have what would appear to be a full field.

Show me the money! The difference in earnings for finishing positions of 37th at Bristol to 43rd, seven positions goes from $81,050 for 37th down to $80,289 for 43rd, only $61.00. Full-time entries finishing 36th or higher earned a minimum of $108,314. Kyle Busch took home a paycheck of $192,415 while second place earned Carl Edwards $184,691. Factor in the bonus for being a top 35 team in owners points the true difference between first and last isn’t that huge of a difference. The goal is to make the top 35 and then hope for the best. As such there remains substantial booty left for do-nothing teams to claim.

It makes sense to reward the teams that are fully invested prepared to compete from start to finish and create an incentive to race full time as rewarding the top 35 teams currently attempts to accomplish. Perhaps it would make competition more intense if there were greater premiums to win a top ten finish. It does not make sense in any manner to reward teams who have no intention of doing anything.

The following drivers appear to be culprits in Sunday’s Sprint Cup race, Michael McDowell – 35 laps; Landon Cassill – 36 laps; Joe Nemechek – 72 laps; and J.J. Yeley – 97 laps. Six drivers pulled out from Saturday’s Nationwide series race: Kelly Bires – 2 laps, Brad Teague – 3 laps; Chris Lawson – 4 laps; Brett Rowe – 5 laps; J.J. Yeley – 7 laps; Jeff Green – 27 laps.

Landon Cassill is 22 year old driver – how does racing for the infamous Parsons/Humphrey organization willing to maintain their scam speak for his future? He is fortunate to be a “test” driver for Hendrick motor sports. Michael McDowell 26 years old has only had the chance to knock on the door of Sprint Cup fortune joining Michael Waltrip’s team after Dale Jarrett’s retirement. Since then, he has bounced around with start and park teams. At 34 years old, one has to wonder what future could be available J.J. Yeley. Perhaps the younger drivers could drop back to lower series and re-establish themselves, but would a team looking to build a winning team find a driver like J.J. Yeley the kind of fellow attractive to sponsors destined for top 10 finishes?

One would think owners who are investing substantial fortune in trying to compete would first be offended seeing the money their start and park fellows suck in at their expense. Surely owners would have to question the fire in the belly of drivers who’d take any old chance to race at the highest levels. If they would compromise the desire to compete with such entries, how much commitment would they show in an operation hell-bent on winning?

It’s ugly and disgraceful all the way around. NASCAR has only made a token effort to address the problem threatening to tear down the first car to pull off in post race inspection. Otherwise, there’s nothing more than denial. On Fox broadcasts, Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds have openly supported these efforts but their reasoning makes no sense at all.

NASCAR will continue to sweep the start and park issue under the rug as long as they can get away with it. For some reason, since 1998, they have become enamored with the necessity of having a 43 car field. If the goal were competition, would it not be better to have 37 positions and have cars fight it out to make the field?

Let’s be honest, if a team doesn’t buy the necessary tires to compete in a race, cuts other corners, and doesn’t even hire a full pit crew is CHEATING. Trevor Bayne finished in 34th place and it’s no secret that the Wood Brothers are financially struggling. They earned $89,200 for their efforts. Joe Nemechek who’d never make any effort to compete but pander for sympathy went home with $80,800. The Wood Brothers opt to only race on a part time basis and do the best they can. Doing anything well means nothing to start and park teams if they make the field.

To the extent that start and park drivers have little influence on who makes the top ten, it might be seen as a small issue, but a team like the Wood Brothers could fail to make the field fully geared up to race because a scab posted a better time in qualifying. This is unethical and simply fails to pass any common sense test. It ruins NASCAR’s credibility

We hope Jennifer Jo Cobb’s situation will help the ground swell against start and park force NASCAR’s hand to do something. As one who has faithfully followed Sprint Cup racing for many years and loves the top series of virtually all sports, it offends me as a fan that such small-minded nonsensical judgment prevails in one of the nation’s most popular sports.

Join with me in expressing your displeasure at this farce. At some point, the France dynasty will hear us and do something.


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