The Frontstretch: NASCAR Practices Unfair Practice by Amy Henderson -- Thursday March 15, 2007

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NASCAR Practices Unfair Practice

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Thursday March 15, 2007

 

To the victor go the spoils. That's been true since man first discovered that if he could outrun his neighbor and steal his mammoth steak, he didn't have to risk death or dismemberment to bring down his own. The spoils have evolved since then-mammoth steak was messy-but the adage has remained. In NASCAR it is alive and well and killing the underdog.

The garage is segregated by point standing. If you have ever watched the haulers enter the track and park, you have probably noticed that one truck is always first and that's the reigning champion. Next comes the current point leader, and so on down the line until the last-place team has parked. If it ended there, it would be fair and right. After all, the champion gave a whole season of sweat and tears to get there and the team deserves some bragging rights.

But it doesn't end there. NASCAR has said that they want to reduce costs for smaller teams, that they want to level the playing field, but what happens next every race weekend tilts the smaller teams right off the field. Every car has to go through technical inspection before it's allowed on track for practice. That makes sense. Once again, the cars roll trough the line in preordained order: defending champion, point leader, on down the line.

The inspection process is not always quick. It's not often completed before practice begins, and that means the teams who are already struggling do not get the entire practice time. It's not unheard of for a few of the last teams to miss practice altogether. Look at the practice stats sometime. Specifically, look at the number of laps each team is running. It often tells the tale.

Dale Jarrett made headlines this week complaining about this practice, but it isn't new, and it hurts teams already struggling to catch up with the frontrunners. Practice time can mean the difference between racing on Sunday and watching from home to teams not locked into the top 35, or between racing into the top 35 or being on the outside. In an era where a team's survival depends on sponsor dollars and television exposure, not making races can be a death sentence for small teams.

Could this be fixed? Sure. NASCAR could do a couple of things to make the process fair and equitable to every team. First, and simplest, they could start inspection earlier. Teams should be prepared for it off the truck, or close to, and if a team isn't ready, they should go to the end of the line. If the process started early enough, it could be finished before practice, and everyone could get more track time. (Although, not all the cars are allowed on track for practice the moment it begins. They're sent out in groups in-surprise!-the order of defending champion, point leader, and so on.)

Jarrett said as much recently, as the former champion (and recipient of first-in-line privileges) is 32nd in owner's points and now in the position of the other guy, near the end of the tech line every week. "It’s something I haven’t looked at over the years because I haven’t been in that position,” Jarrett said. “I can now have a little sympathy with those guys that have been back there in the past. They don’t get a lot of practice time. It’s hard enough for them to try to make the races as it is. I honestly think it’s a situation that practice should not start until everybody’s through inspection. If that means practice starts late and we have to run late – I know we have a lot dictated by TV and radio now, but if you’re going to run a fair process, everybody should be able to have the same amount of time to practice. Do we have to start earlier? I know it’s long days already for the NASCAR officials and for the crews. But I know from the crew side of it, they would be more than willing to go in 30 minutes earlier if we needed to do that to ensure that everybody was going to get the same amount of practice time.”

If starting inspection earlier is truly impossible for some reason (there are all-night donut shops, so nobody's breakfast would be disrupted), NASCAR could run the tech line the way they handle qualifying order: as a lottery. Even if the defending champ was given a "provisional" and got first dibs every week, shaking up inspection order would make the process fair from week to week.

NASCAR is sending a strong message to teams and fans that they don't care about the smaller teams, and the current inspection/practice policy only strengthens that conception. The teams that are adversely affected end up in a vicious cycle: in a points hole and unable to make their cars good enough with limited practice to dig out of it. Surely there is a fix to this problem. The victor can have the spoils, but ensuring that the same select teams will always be the victor goes against everything NASCAR should stand for.

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Terry
03/16/2007 06:29 AM
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Finally someone says what the fans have been saying and feeling… It’s racing! Not advertising. Let the best 43 cars and drivers on the field. The worlds premier RACING series and 35 drivers and cars can wreck or qualify with low times and still race every week. It is not fair to the drivers, fans, owners or their pocket books to “give” 35 spots to teams that have no insentive to quilify good because they KNOW they are in the show. Finacially covered It is wrong, wrong, wrong, and is sure as hell is not racing. The teams that go home also have huge “expenses”. Why should the fan watch Qualifing? So we fans can see what cars are going home… We have elevated the game from tuning in to see who will win, to tuning in to see who is going to loose this week. What is wrong with this picture…? Is the reverse competion racing. We use to watch to see the competion between 43- 55 drivers; what a novel idea. But then we fans only have small pocketbooks, unless you add all our money together. Then… we have what NASCAR is “really” racing for.
And if they haven’t seen the numbers on the latest viewing polls, is going down. The fans are very tired of the chiching, chiching, chiching. But then, that seems to be a taboo journlist topic also; with a free press.

Ed
03/16/2007 06:49 AM
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Thanks for the enlightening article. I knew about the silly entrance rules, but not about the tech inspection. NASCAWWF has a reputation of favoritism, whether it’s a particular driver or automaker, or simply through it’s silly rules for racetrack entry, etc. They are naturally going to favor the big teams with big dollar sponsors, because the dollar dictates their every move. It would be a shame for whomever is the current poster child, if they didn’t get enough practice and failed to make the race. Therefore, if Michael Waltrip continues to do poorly, look for a rule change soon.

Terry
03/16/2007 06:56 AM
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Finally someone says what the fans have been saying and feeling… It’s racing! Not advertising. Let the best 43 cars and drivers on the field. The worlds premier RACING series and 35 drivers and cars can wreck or qualify with low times and still race every week. It is not fair to the drivers, fans, owners or their pocket books to “give” 35 spots to teams that have no incentive to qualify good because they KNOW they are in the show, financially covered. It is wrong, wrong, wrong, and is sure as hell is not racing. The teams that go home also have huge “expenses”. Why should the fan watch Qualifying? So we fans can see what cars are going home… We have elevated the game from tuning in to see who will win, to tuning in to see who is going to loose this week. What is wrong with this picture…? Is this reverse competition racing. We use to watch to see the competition between 43 – 55 drivers; what a novel idea. But then we fans only have small pocketbooks, unless you add all our money together. Then… we have what NASCAR is “really” racing for.
And if they haven’t seen the numbers on the latest viewing polls, they are going down. The fans are very tired of the chiching, chiching, chiching. But then, that seems to be a taboo journalist topic also; with a free press.

M. B. Voelker
03/16/2007 09:35 AM
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Every time I hear someone complain about this I wonder, ...

Why weren’t you complaining about it when it was only affecting “field fillers” who weren’t going to run more than a few laps anyway?

And what time does inspection start now? I haven’t been there to see it myself, but my understanding is that its pretty much the crack of dawn anyway. Who’s going to pay for the second shift of officials to work the o’dark-thirty hours AND how does it help the little teams to make them spend an extra day at the racetrack with all those associated expenses?

This is racing. Its about competition and competition means winners and losers.

All this fuss about practice time is just another excuse to attempt to replace competition with socialism.

Why should the successful teams be robbed of the fruits of their success? How do you justify it?

Next thing people will complain that when qualifying is rained out its the points leaders who get in and start asking for a random draw for that.

Joe Schanno
03/16/2007 09:44 AM
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With so many teams trying to get into the show it is time to scrap time qualifying, protecting the top thirty five and the use of provisionals. Suggestion to NASCAR. Cut the protection from the top thirty-five in points to the top twenty-five. Let in the top twenty-five in points start the race in the same order they finished the week before. For the next twenty-three spots let any team that shows up to the track try to race their way in in a qualifying race. The qualifying races will be a far better TV draw than time trials, with every sponser getting some exposure during a race even if a team does not make the big show for the week. Racing in the middle of the pack will improve as teams fight to stay in the top twenty-five. The practice of not having faster teams in qualifying in a race because somebody is ranked 35th or has a provisional would end.

Scott
03/16/2007 09:52 AM
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Is there only one inspection line? Why not two, or three? Let NASCAR or the track invest the funds to open more inspection lines and more inspectors. Could have the champion, point leader, etc go through one, have the last in points on up go through another, and maybe another one for re-inspects only.

Joe
03/16/2007 11:00 AM
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“to “give” 35 spots to teams” —— You BIG DUMMY, they don’t give anything, the teams EARNED their top 35 spot by PERFORMING the year before(2006)!!!

abe browne
03/16/2007 01:05 PM
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Great Article!! Too bad Nascar can’t read. Their minds are made up on all matters. Blatantly prejudiced at times, but that’s the way the dollar and big teams bounces. No equity in this game. Forget the little guy, go for the corporate money.

Mitch
03/16/2007 04:04 PM
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When the idea of locking the top 35 in points into the field was first announced, I thought it was a terrible idea. I still think so.

Think about this (very unlikely this could happen but) you have 48 cars at the track. 35 are locked in and 8 will have to qualify own time from the 13 remaining. 10 of those cars qualify 1 – 10. That would mean that two of the top 10 cars in qualifying would be sent home. Is that fair?

Brian France Sucks
03/17/2007 03:31 PM
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All teams should have equal practice time leading up to qualifying and after that up to the race. The reason this will never happen is because you have Bozo the Clown (Brian France) running the show. Mike Helton is just a mouthpiece for Bozo, so you can pretty much tell what Bozo is thinking by listening to Helton. As is usually the case with Bozo, its all about $$$. Bozo could care less if the lower teams have adequate practice time; as long as they and more importantly, their $$$ show up, all is well. Whether they qualify or not is immaterial, because the Top 35 teams are where the majority of the commercial advertising that accompanies the races resides. In short its all about the money and nothing else. If it wasn’t then there would still be races at tracks that actually have racing (Rockingham, Darlington, etc..) instead of cookie cutter jobs and snoozefests. Case in point, Fontana, the most worthless track on the circuit, where drama has to be manufactured by timely Bozo-instigated yellows. In short the $$$ are going to ruin the National Association $tock Car Advertising Revenue.

Chris2
03/19/2007 01:35 PM
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M.B, a couple things..alot of us were complaining when the top-35 rule first came around and we still are..whether or not its “field-fillers” or a top driver this is a sport and therefor should act like a sport by giving everyone an equal shot. This ties in with your comment “This is racing. Its about competition and competition means winners and losers.” The winners and losers should be determined on the track, not in the office of Mr. France..they should be determined by everyone running there best qualifying lap and setting the field that way..not a welfare system that was designed so that the advertisers wouldn’t get upset. The top-35 never, ever had anything to do with rewarding teams…ever..all about the bottom line.

 

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