Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sprint Cup 2011: Race 5 -- Season's First Milepost

The fifth race of the season presents the first landmark as each subsequent race's starting 35 cars will be determined by 2011 owner's points. Who's on the bubble and each team's status is given below.

The Sprint Cup tour makes its only trip to Southern California this weekend hoping for strong ticket sales given since the sport expanded to two events yearly in 2004, attendance at Fontana has been terrible. The race has also been reduced from 500 to 400 laps – a move seen as being more “fan friendly.” The Los Angeles area sports fan is a different breed to be sure. It’s hard to imagine the nation’s second largest metropolitan area does not have an NFL franchise and has once been passed over for an expansion bid. This is also the land of where even legendary teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and Dodgers find fans typically arrive “fashionably late” and often bolt before the game’s over. From NASCAR’s standpoint it probably doesn’t matter when they arrive or when they leave just as long as they show up. Sunday will be a big test to be sure.

The race only had 43 entries meaning every team that signed up will start the race. This should serve as further logic against allowing start and park entries. A smaller field where drivers have to compete to make the race certainly would force teams to be more invested in being a genuine racing effort not just pathetic free loaders. The start and park rewards must be quite worth it given the number of teams who trekked across the continent to make their token appearance on Sunday.

Juan Pablo Montoya whose season got off to a great start before losing four positions last week at Bristol while still holding down 8th place in the standings won the pole. Denny Hamlin who needs to pickup the tempo to aim for a more customary place in the top ten is on the outside pole. Chevrolet dominates the top ten starters with six entries with three Toyotas and one Ford. Points leader Kurt Busch starts 23rd. Joey Logano facing a horrible season so far sits third.

TOP 15 Qualifiers:
1 – Juan Pablo Montoya #1, Chevrolet
2 – Denny Hamlin #11, Toyota
3 – Joey Logano #20, Toyota
4 – Regan Smith #78, Chevrolet
5 – Tony Stewart #14, Chevrolet
6 – David Ragan #6, Ford
7 – Jeff Burton #31, Chevrolet
8 – Kyle Busch #18, Toyota
9 – Ryan Newman #39, Chevrolet
10 – Mark Martin #5, Chevrolet
11 – Matt Kenseth #17, Ford
12 – Jamie McMurray #1, Chevrolet
13 – Marcos Ambrose #9, Ford
14 – David Reutimann #00, Toyota
15 – Paul Menard #27, Ford

Other drivers who needed to do well posted good starts: David Ragan and Jeff Burton. There are five almost certain and possibly more start and park entries led by Tommy Baldwin “Racing” in 31st driven by Dave Blaney. The Humphrey-Parsons charade has two cars in the race, and as predictable as ants finding a picnic, Joe Nemechek will start as well. Tommy McMillan has J.J. Yeley as his scab in the back of the field for his entry. Close to 14% of the field is ripping off the fans and the other drivers. Hopefully, the remainder of the field will compete.

The race within the race is for owners attempting to lock into the top 35 in points guaranteeing starting as long as they remain 35th or better. After this race, the outcry against start and park could get much louder should such scabs become locked in on points. The notion that a team could be guaranteed a starting spot in a sports’ field having no intention to compete thoroughly tarnishes the very integrity of the sport but let’s look at the bubble.

30 – car #31, owner – Richard Childress; driver – Jeff Burton.
STATUS: well funded, starts 7th (74 pts.) (+22)

31 – car #20, owner – Joe Gibbs; driver – Joey Logano.
STATUS: well funded, starts 3rd (74 pts.) (+22)

32 – car #83, owner – Dennis Mataschitz; driver: Brian Vickers.
STATUS: well funded, starts 19th. (69 pts.) (+17)

33 – car #32, owner – Frank Stoddard; driver – Ken Schrader.
STATUS: under funded, starts 39th. (66 pts.) (+14)

34 – car #7, owner – Robby Gordon; driver – Robby Gordon.
STATUS: under funded, start and parked in 2010, starts 35th. (59 pts.) (+7)

35 – car #13, owner – Bob Germain; driver -- Casey Mears.
STATUS: start and parked in 2010, starts 25th. (52 pts.)

36 – car #36, owner – Tommy Baldwin; driver – Dave Blaney.
STATUS: Chronic start and park entry, starts 31st. (51 pts.) (-1)

37 – car #37, owner – Brad Jenkins; driver – David Gilliand.
STATUS: Marginally funded, attempts to complete races, starts 42nd. (50 pts.) (-2)

38 – car #71, owner – Kevin Buckler; driver – Andy Lally.
STATUS: limited sponsorship, start and parked in 2010. starts 71st. (49 pts.) (-3)

39 – car #38, owner – Bob Jenkins: driver – Travis Kvapil:
STATUS: limited funding, starts 36th. (46 pts.) (-6)

The time to address start and park entries and possibly adjusting the size of the starting field is NOW. If a team guaranteed a starting position pulls off the track, serious consequences are in order. ESPN and SpeedTV simply are not calling attention to what’s going on to the extent that the issue is on fans’ radar. Jennifer Jo Cobb deserves tremendous credit. Now it’s time for Sprint Cup drivers to stand up.


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