Saturday, June 18, 2011


When the checkered flag drops on tomorrow's Sprint Cup race, NASCAR will have shelled out over $5,000,000 in prize money to cars that have shown up, qualified, and pulled off the track early in the race with no desire nor the resources to complete the race. On the same weekend as when the PGA hosts one of its major tournaments when plenty of golfers fully intending to compete to the top of their capabilities for the entire weekend did not make the cut after Friday's action, what's going on with NASCAR permitting self serving slugs to corrupt the field is beyond comprehension.

The math is simple right now. Thirty five cars will make the field based on owner's points. These teams will complete albeit a few rather badly for the entire race. The starting field consists of forty three cars leaving eight spots open for cars that could be "go or go home" rides if nine or more cars enter.

All season long, the following cars have entered and pulled off in virtually every race since the Daytona 500, cars #87, #60, #66 and #46.  Recently, the Whitney operation has added a second freeloading car, #81 with another new loser in the #30 entering the mix for "Inception Motor Sports," there are at least six of the eight cars engaged in the farce. Now add to that the #7 car owned and often driven by maverick owner Robby Gordon, and conceivably all but one of the cars out of the top 35 could be quitters.  On top of that, occasionally, the #52 Keselowski car could show up too. They're not prepared to run either.

Here's the rub, despite not racing every race, the Wood Brothers, who come not just to complete but to win, are currently in 35th by only two points over the detestable Robby Gordon who is a walking lawsuit or bad press episode with every race. Kevin Buckler's team, #71, ironically bearing the old Dave Marcis number, is working hard to become legitimate holding on with minor sponsorship. The Front Row Motorsports entries, Bob Jenkins; #38 and Brad Jenkins' #37 are in 38th and 39th place with marginal or nonexistent sponsorship struggling to hold on but still having cars on the track when checkered flag drops. These teams sometimes obtain sponsorship on a race-to-race basis. How effectively will they be able to shop for sponsors if they don't make the race when the selfish slugs who are flaunting an insane system do?

NASCAR perhaps attempts to hold on to some kind of romanticism of the little guy who builds cars in a backyard garage and works his way up to the big time invoking a history of the origins of Petty Enterprises, Ralph Earnhardt, and even Richard Childress. However, times have changed. Below the Sprint Cup level, there are more economical series in Nationwide and Craftsman Trucks, both full-time coast-to-coast touring series. Beneath that drivers can compete in ARCA, a great proving ground for NASCAR, or the two regional series. Whatever happened to starting at the lower levels, establishing credibility then working up the ladder to the top?

If one looks at the opportunists taking advantage of "start and park" the notion of the backyard or small town shop doesn't exactly fit when some are clearly involved in more of an investment scam than anything else. The Nemechek saga is a sad joke. Here's a guy who's washed up as far a major teams are concerned and somehow thinks that by continuing to show up, qualify and running a few laps could get him back with the big boys, hardly. Would some up and coming outfit want anything to do with a guy whose best days are past? No!

How horribly ironic it is that the #7 car is involved in this charade when 20 years ago, that car belonged to Alan Kulwicki who labored long and hard with his engineering degree using brains to defeat money winning the championship in 1992. Kulwicki had many struggles and sacrifices to reach the sport's highest achievement. He didn't do it taking advantage of ridiculous rules.

While the entire notion of start and park must be removed from the sport, the first step must be permitting sponsored rides that are equipped to complete the entire race to be qualified into the field ahead of any possible start and park entries. If NASCAR wants teams to be able to sell sponsorship and allow teams to build into full-fledged competitors, this is essential. From an integrity standpoint it is only just to do so.

Meanwhile, in the Nationwide series, in today's just completed race, NINE cars completed 27 laps or less, four with mysterious "vibrations." Meanwhile, all but two of this year's Nationwide races have been won by Sprint Cup drivers making this series look even more ill-defined as a legitimate competitive enterprise.

We're watching a sport that is increasingly at a crossroads. The surge in popularity from the 80's into the early 2000's is OVER.  What can NASCAR do to remedy this?  One key ingredient is assuring the integrity of the product on the track and allowing drivers to start races just for show is not respectable from any perspective.


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