The Frontstretch: Start and Park Doing Nothing for NASCAR: And It's Not Going Anywhere Anytime Soon by Bryan Davis Keith -- Thursday November 19, 2009

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Start and Park Doing Nothing for NASCAR: And It's Not Going Anywhere Anytime Soon

Frontstretch Special Report · Bryan Davis Keith · Thursday November 19, 2009

 

Q: Who’s the richest man in a NASCAR garage?
A: The last place driver in a Cup race.

That old adage has been around NASCAR’s garages since the 1970s, and has held true every time that start and park teams take to the track. For as long as anyone following racing can remember, there have been teams that have taken to the track with no intent of competing, but instead to collect a check. However, 2009 has seen the practice escalate from relative obscurity in the back of the field to a growing staple at all levels of NASCAR racing.

There are plenty out there that simply don’t care about it, or that dismiss the recent rash of start and park as a product of a down economy. NASCAR’s own Robin Pemberton goes even further, having stated back in March that he saw such teams as seizing an opportunity, programs not up to speed that realize “this is the way to get started.”

But here we are, eight months later, and it’s clear Pemberton’s words are nothing more than smoke and mirrors. Start and park as it is being seen today is not a product of a down economy. It’s not a means for the underdogs to carve their names out and get started. And it’s not something NASCAR is in any way concerning itself about … just a side business inside a sport that’s increasingly about dollars and cents more than anything else.

So, as the 2009 season concludes, we’re instead faced with an unpleasant reality: start and park is not only thriving, but here for the long haul. And as the number of S&P teams expand, not contract, they’re driving teams that are already here and trying to race right out of the sport. That leaves NASCAR entirely at fault for letting its top three touring series have up to a third of their fields parking early at any given race track.

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For some of the start-and-park teams out there, such as MSRP Motorsports in the Nationwide Series or PRISM Motorsports in the Cup ranks, the intent of their efforts is simply to cash a check and get out. For most others, such as JD Motorsports, Jay Robinson Racing, and more recently Specialty Racing, it’s a means of survival. But staying afloat doesn’t offer you a free ticket to the promised land; in fact, not a single start and park team since the practice emerged in the early 2000s has landed a sponsorship to allow them to race successfully full-time over the long-term.

I’m sure if one looked hard enough, they could nitpick the viability of start and park to get a team on track all day long, as a handful of cars experienced limited, short-term success with part-time deals. But what is indisputable is that no matter the motivation, S&P is a business… and business is good. While the average number of S&P entries in the Truck Series has remained steady throughout the season (though that series has had up to 33% of its field park early in some instances), the number of such cars has doubled in the Cup Series, as well as increased 91% in the Nationwide Series through 2009. It’s further indisputable that the practice makes money. Sources in the Nationwide garage tell Frontstretch that as a result of his MSRP Motorsports operation, owners Phil Parsons and Randy Humphrey are banking over $7,000 per race in cold, hard cash, with their “race efforts” and driver bills fully paid for.

And it’s further indisputable that even if/when the economy does turn around and sponsors once again start looking to NASCAR, that’s no guarantee that the S&P teams are going to disappear, like they largely did back in 2005. For one, some of these race teams wouldn’t be able to race even if a sponsor did come calling. Speaking to an anonymous Nationwide Series driver, Frontstretch was informed that MSRP Motorsports’ cars are so built in to a qualifying setup, so built into running 10-20 laps before calling it quits, that even if a sponsor was to approach them at the track and offer to foot the bill for a race, it’d be mechanically impossible for their cars to last a full NNS event.

What’s more, sponsors have found a way to get the bang for their buck, even if the car they put their name on doesn’t last but a few laps. A recent MSNBC feature on Tommy Baldwin Racing chronicled how sponsor Wave Energy Drink, despite never having seen their car on track at the end of a Cup race, have benefited from their sponsorship as much as a smaller team running a full race.

“We’ve watched our emails skyrocket,” says Wave owner David Tomecello. “It’s a lot more [exposure for us].”

And Tomecello is right. Even with Tommy Baldwin Racing being a crapshoot week in and week out as to whether or not they’ll qualify for a race, Wave Energy Drink still gets to flash plenty of pictures of their bright blue No. 36 car. They still get driver appearances to work with. They get everything that a smaller sponsor could hope, while the most expensive, and important part, gets marginalized… the car driving on the track.

But Wave is not the only company to have figured this out. Following the Fall race at Charlotte, Frontstretch contacted Anderson’s Maple Syrup, a smaller company that has on several occasions in 2009 sponsored the No. 49 car of Jay Robinson Racing in the Nationwide Series, fully aware that the car would be starting and parking. Here’s what they had to say:

“We decided that the cost of sponsoring a start and park was not much more than getting hot passes off of Ebay.”

And the company certainly reaped the rewards of getting even the 30 laps or so of exposure they did. In addition to receiving daily requests for hero cards of their No. 49 entry, the company as of October was close to signing a deal with a major grocery chain that would result “completely because of the sponsorship with Jay Robinson Racing.”

Now, this article is not to put down companies for successfully using NASCAR to market their products, nor is it to criticize teams for accepting sponsor dollars despite still being unable to truly compete on the track. What it does illustrate, however, is that even when and if the economy does turn around, where’s the motivation for teams and sponsors to get back into racing? If a company can spend enough to get to the track without the exorbitant costs of actually competing, why will they stop?

It’s not just sponsors that are making serious cash for start and park efforts, either. As previously mentioned, MSRP Motorsports’ owners are hauling in thousands of dollars every weekend that’s going straight to the bank (and in their case, out of racing for good… MSRP is not building for the future). NEMCO Motorsports, which Joe Nemechek and Scott Speed have run the distance for in only a handful of 2009 races, has been estimated to turn as much as $1.8 million in profit thus far in 2009 (though those numbers are disputed). And in the Nationwide Series, start and park clearly is making a profit, as owners including Johnny Davis, the Keselowski family and Jay Robinson have not only managed to keep their distance-running entries on track with minimal sponsorship, they’ve kept running S&P entries as well.

Kelly Bires is among a long list of promising drivers who had to resort to start and park rides this season in order to stay involved with the sport — much to the delight of their bank accounts.

The drivers themselves outrunning these entries aren’t doing so shabby, either. Kenny Hendrick ran a start and park campaign for a number of teams in 2008, and started 2009 as a result with a full-time Nationwide Series ride despite having not completed a race since 2004. As written on this site back in August, Kelly Bires landed tremendous exposure running a number of start and parks for Phil Parsons, efforts that led to him being named Brad Keselowski’s replacement at JR Motorsports for 2010. For other drivers, the money hasn’t been so bad, either. Sources in the Nationwide garage informed Frontstretch that for his efforts in the No. 49 car, Mark Green is pulling down $3,000 a race. Not too shabby for a guy who’d spent the past few seasons driving part-time for a small team.

Green’s not the only driver making solid money in next to no track time. Terry Cook managed to accentuate his Truck Series salary tremendously in 2009, banking $2,500 for every race he’s run with MSRP Motorsports. By comparison, sources claim fellow MSRP driver Johnny Chapman is only making $1,000 per race for his efforts with the team, but seriously… would Chapman have a chance at making money driving race cars any other place, any other way?

So drivers are bringing in decent-sized checks, owners are making money, and sponsors are happy. The only problem is, that’s not putting cars on the track, just filling the field… on the stat sheet only.

But anyone that knows NASCAR knows all too well they don’t give a damn what’s going on at the back of the pack. Instead, they’re actively encouraging start and park to continue. As Frontstretch reported back in March, NASCAR was actively recruiting Truck Series drivers to come out to Fontana to run S&P efforts to ensure a full field. Further, the sanctioning body is paying no mind to the fleet of race cars pulling back into their respective garages early in the running of races week in and week out. Frontstretch had writers in the Nationwide garage at Charlotte this past Fall observing the “inspection process” of cars that, on the score sheet anyway, had suffered debilitating mechanical failures.

The term “inspection process” is used as loosely as possible…because NASCAR’s officials weren’t inspecting. They were doing nothing more than watching an assembly line at work. Each of the start and park cars pulled right up to the NASCAR hauler, forming a straight line. Crews were in no frantic hurry to figure out what was wrong with their cars… because they weren’t going back out there. In fact, some of the teams already had crew members stationed at or near the NASCAR hauler anticipating their car to pull in (MSRP Motorsports had several crew members standing right alongside me as I waited for the inevitable.) Everyone knew what was happening … and nobody cared to do much about it.

That’s surprising, considering Robin Pemberton’s assertion back in March that “we [NASCAR] owe it to the garage area [to make sure everybody is on the up and up.”

To steal a line from Joe Wilson: “You lie!”

What’s more, NASCAR’s convoluted qualifying rules have also encouraged even more teams… teams not even at the back of the field… to start and park. Look at the cases of JTG/Daugherty Racing, K Automotive, NEMCO Motorsports, and Specialty Racing in the Nationwide Series. All lacking sponsorship, but having to attempt every race to stay locked in the top 30, those teams woke up and realized that given the points spread, they can start and park the rest of the season, save on overhead, and still be locked in for Daytona 2010. That’s great business sense for these teams with no sponsor dollars… but is that good for the sport?

Once at the forefront of the start and park craze, Morgan Shepherd’s No. 89 is now one of the full-distance teams suffering through DNQ after DNQ while the very “business” he helped create knocks him out of the starting lineup.

Yet with a myriad of other problems to take care of, NASCAR has — both out of indifference and to a degree, necessity — turned a blind eye to the start and park epidemic that has gripped all of the national touring series. But in this case, ignorance is far from bliss — and it certainly won’t allow the problem to take care of itself. Fact is, start and park and what it has evolved into is something that NASCAR should very much care about… because it’s not doing the sport’s future any favors.

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So why should NASCAR care that a bunch of cars in the back of the field are making a mockery of competition, not bothering to compete in the sport to stay there, or that some of its most influential broadcasters are padding their pockets by exploiting the sport they’re supposed to cover?

For one, regardless of what indifferent race fans, Cup drivers, etc. say, start and park teams have had a huge impact on the fields in all three national touring series in 2009. This season, across Trucks, Nationwide, and Cup, S&P entries have taken 91 spots in starting lineups from cars that showed up to attempt a full race. Assuming those teams took home last place money in each of those 91 starts, that a total $3,349,320 in winnings that actual race teams were deprived of. And that’s not taking into account the value of the exposure that 200, 300, 500 miles of racing would have garnered the teams sent home in favor of those who chose not to take part in the sport.

And though it has been discussed on this site before, it can’t be restated enough that S&P teams do not qualify on an equal playing field. How in the world is any team not named Joe Gibbs Racing or equipped with millions in sponsor dollars supposed to compete with cars that have 25 additional horsepower in their motors (while running tapered spacers) and that are built solely to last 20 miles, not 200?

As Morgan Shepherd told Frontstretch back in September, “people stay agitated long enough and they’ll leave” when having to compete with S&P teams to make races. Shepherd’s right… that time has come. Sources have confirmed with Frontstretch that a number of longtime Nationwide owners are doing just that, throwing their hands up in the air, ready to cut back or even cease running Nationwide Series entries. Why?

They’ve acquired Cup CoT cars. And they’re prepared to move to the Cup Series, to compete as an S&P for part of that much more lucrative pie. The teams of K Automotive and Jay Robinson Racing have figured that if they’re going to have to compete as David vs. Goliath (while the refs stroke Goliath’s back), they may as well do it where the real money is.

And who can blame them? As it stands right now, there is absolutely no financial incentive for race teams out there to go the distance, run up tire and engine bills, and risk damage to their cars. Dexter Bean ran the distance at Pocono in June, only to make $725 more in purse money than Joe Nemechek, who start and parked. That’s not even enough money to buy one half set of Goodyears. Nemechek’s been on the other side of that equation himself, running the distance to score only $1,553 in winnings more than start and parker Dave Blaney at Richmond in September.

The harsh economic reality that running better doesn’t pay has done plenty to proliferate start and park, as many teams out there that have tried to race just can’t afford to do it and keep up with the start and parkers. Specialty Racing’s No. 61 car and Wayne Day’s No. 05 are just a few examples of cars that have been relegated to start and parking…largely in part because everyone else is doing it, not because they actually want to.

So in short, this is what NASCAR is up against. Start and park teams are taking spots from teams trying to race… and the money that goes with it. They’re parking earlier and more often, because there’s no financial incentive at all to actually run a race distance. Owners are ready to pack up their race cars to S&P for more money elsewhere. And sponsors are finding ways to make money off the sport and their involvement in it… without the sport and its all-important competition benefiting.

That financial windfall alone tells us things won’t improve simply because the economy gets better. Where’s the incentive for a sponsor to push for their team to race farther and spend more money when they’re still getting driver appearances and promotional materials with race cars? And how are better-funded cars going to drive these teams away when start and parkers — ranging from MSRP Motorsports’ entries to Jay Robinson’s No. 49 car — have proven consistently able to challenge for top 10 qualifying efforts? If these teams can outrun even Cup machinery, why stop a profitable venture simply because the economy gets better around you?

So tell me again why race fans, or NASCAR, should consider start and park, as NASCAR.com’s Dave Rodman put it, “a non-competitive non-issue?”

Sorry, Dave, but start and park is doing far more than putting a black eye on the sport. It’s harming its longevity, establishing itself with a permanence that shows no signs of slowing until NASCAR puts it foot down. And for race fans out there that actually do give a damn about the teams that don’t have $20 million sponsors, that’s cause for concern.

And for NASCAR, all I’ll say is this. You’ve been warned.

Contact Bryan Davis Keith

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Bruce E. Simmons (NBaP)
11/19/2009 12:19 AM
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Though I agree emotionally with the idea that start and parks look bad for the sport, from the inside.

From the outside, the inconsequential fan, they don’t even know they pull off the track! And having 43 cars plowing towards that first green flag sure looks great.

Not to mention, if NASCAR were to put a kabash on this practice, what do they do with the empty pit stalls? Paint over them and make it look like they have a full field at 35 or 36 cars?

It’s an odd position to be in, that’s for sure.

As an insider looking in, I agree with you Bryan, but the casual fan, eh, gimme speed, gimme in-car cams. What S&P’s?

Is it even worth NASCAR’s time to deal with it and not get a black eye over it?

bruce
11/19/2009 04:20 AM
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The S&P’s are only doing as much as Nascar allows them to do. By siphoning off potential team sponsors to be “the official whatever of Nascar”, the France cabal dilutes the product.

I think it would be better if the designated “official sponsors” put their money on the track instead of the France’s bank account. At least that might be enough to help some of the S&P’s run complete races more often.

Ken
11/19/2009 06:22 AM
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The coverage given by the networks to cars that are not the chosen ones is the same as the S & P cars. If you are not going to get any exposure for racing, S & P is the way to go.

M.B. Voelker
11/19/2009 07:28 AM
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I still say, “So what?”

Its not like the S&P teams are qualifying in the top 10. Any car that isn’t good enough to outrun them in qualifying would have been nothing but a moving chicane anyway.

When the economy improves sponsors who want TV time on race day will move in and fund competitive teams. Until them its better to have the moving chicanes off the track out of the way than on it.

FSBryan
11/19/2009 07:33 AM
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Terry Cook has qualified the No. 91 S&P car 7th at Texas, and 5th at ORP (he was running 3rd in that race before parking). Dave Blaney qualified the same car 10th at Atlanta. And Mark Green qualified the No. 49 car 7th at Richmond.

The Turnip!
11/19/2009 07:50 AM
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START & PARK” is not a major issue! Never has been, never will be!

With all the CRAP NA$CRAP throws at us the fans, and at the teams themselves, to consider a S & P team, or teams a problem, is WEAK!

AND! If one did not write columns about the S & P situation, no one would ever notice! NEVER on TV or otherwise, is ANY attention given to anything but THE TOP TEN OR 12 DRIVERS/CARS!

Week in, week out, from 15th on back, your a forgotten entity! (unless your the 88 car)!

NA$CRAP, and we the fans, have bigger fish to fry, rather than get all wooly’ed up about a team that might run only 30 laps!

Lets deal with the REAL ISSUES!

Such as that complete idiot BRAIN FARCE! And how he lines his pockets at the individual teams expense!

If teams don’t have the money to compete for an entire race, the fault lies at INTERNATIONAL SPEEDWAY BLVD.!

And looking at the size of this years fields, and reading about a Robby Gordon who has no major sponsor for next year, NA$CRAP may be “inviting” more S & P teams just to fill a starting grid!

AND! Why would ANYONE believe what a Robin Pemberton would be saying?

He is nothing more than another Brain Farce stooge, afraid to speak his own mind!

A typical NA$CRAP “executive”!

Have you EVER seen a bigger bunch of “YES” men in your life?

Bill B
11/19/2009 08:05 AM
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There should be a rule; If you don’t make it to the halfway point of a race, your “winnings” get prorated based on the laps you ran. Take out the easy profit motive and you get rid of the S&Pers.

midasmicah
11/19/2009 09:25 AM
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It’s always been around, but it’s gotten out of hand the last couple of years. I’m seeing in the truck series and the Nationwide series. It’s getting to be a joke. And I agree with Bruce. I the powers in Daytona would give up some of the “official sponsors of nas$crap” and give them to the poor teams it would help. I see this problem getting worse. I think soon you’ll see a third of the field starting and parking. Real exciting huh.

Doug In Washington (State)
11/19/2009 10:24 AM
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The S&P guys are often qualifying in the top 10, top 15. In the NW series, the impound rules really exacerbate this because cars wanting to run the “distance” don’t throw qualifying setups on the car. What’s fast in qualifying usually is junk in actual racing, but what’s good in actual racing is slow in qualifying. The “guaranteed” spots make this even worse- some S&P guys are in the top-30 in the NW series so they don’t even have to have a car that makes minimum speed. So those guys who were “too slow” really were faster than a half dozen other cars that make the race.

3 solutions:

1) the aforementioned pro-rate the prize money based on laps completed.

2) confiscate the parts that the teams declare “failed”. If the part really is broken, they can keep the prize money. If it isn’t broken, they lose the part and the money. It’s not without precedence- NASCAR impounded Carl Long’s engine when it failed during All Star Week practice(that’s how they discovered it was “oversize” even though it was likely just worn out).

I mean, what’s the harm in impounding a broken part- it’s BROKEN. Oh, and if the teams declare “out” for “handling” you impound the car, because it shouldn’t have been able to qualify if it can’t handle enough to maintain minimum speed.

3) Require any team that enters have a full pit crew and require them to pay up-front for the full number of allowed tires.

I had moderate hopes for TBR when they started out, at first they were trying to run the full races, but I lost all respect for them when the S&P started. Never had any respect for Prism (MSRP-Cup). Just a blatant profit-source for a has-been commentator.

Carl D.
11/19/2009 11:29 AM
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The truth of the matter is that the start & park teams help assure that Nascar has a full field for each and every race. Without them, Nascar would have to explain why only the ultra-rich super-teams show up at the tracks and why guys who are truly “just starting out and kinda on a budget” can’t afford to be in the show.

Greg H
11/19/2009 12:26 PM
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So what you are trying to say is that NASCAR should only be for the rich and fortune 500? What about the little guy? Is that not what the sport was built on. Everyone has to start somewhere and if it means that the team has to S&P until both the sponsor and the team can afford to run with the big guys then so be it! Everyone has to start somewhere and the S&P teams should have the same chance as everyone else.

sillyboob
11/19/2009 12:30 PM
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Bill B & Doug – I agree with your ideas whole heartedly. Now if only Nascar would listen…

Kevin
11/19/2009 12:33 PM
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“Its not like the S&P teams are qualifying in the top 10. Any car that isn’t good enough to outrun them in qualifying would have been nothing but a moving chicane anyway.” – M.B. Voelker

I have heard this same comment from a variety of people and quite simply it is not based on reality. On three separate occasions this year, the winner of a Nationwide race has been outqualified by at least one S&P car (races 20, 27, and 28). On two other occasions, an S&P car started right next to the winner (races 19 and 32). Based on your logic, the eventual race winners didn’t deserve to be in any of these races and were merely moving chicanes.

Perhaps you missed this part, but Bryan Keith did an excellent job of explaining this in his article above. Teams that exclusively start and park set up their cars to run only a few laps. Their cars are built very differently in order to get maximum speed out of them for just a short period of time. You can’t realistically expect low-budget teams trying to race legitimately to be able to compete with that if the race winners in the five examples noted above couldn’t even do it!

It has probably been most hurtful to Morgan Shepherd. He is trying to run the full Nationwide schedule this season but has missed 13 races, and most if not all of those DNQs can be blamed on S&P cars. Is Morgan a moving chicane when he makes a race? Not hardly! He has 9 top-23 finishes in 21 starts this season including a season-best 13th. (And that wasn’t even at Daytona or Talladega as one may expect—but at Las Vegas!) In those 21 races, he has completed 86.4% of the laps and has been running at the finish in 15 of them. But because he actually comes to the track to race and not just to qualify, he can’t set up his car to only run the first 10 or 20 laps, so he is at an immediate disadvantage.

I was going to post the idea that Bill B posted above—if you don’t make it to halfway, prorate the winnings based on how many laps you ran. Or even better, don’t pay anything for teams that don’t at least make it to halfway. Maybe give teams an option to appeal if they fell out for a legitimate reason so if a driver wrecks or has a true mechanical problem, that team can still get their share of the purse money.

Starting and parking is a very real and serious problem and it will continue to hurt nascar if it is not addressed.

Kevin in SoCal
11/19/2009 12:34 PM
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Why does NASCAR make the teams buy the Goodyear tires, but Sunoco gives them the gasoline for free?

steve
11/19/2009 02:06 PM
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If you guys think that start and park teams race a few laps, collect their check, and then laugh all the way to the bank need to get their heads examined. With no sponsorship money, where do you supposed their money is coming from to get to the track, purchase 4 tires minimum, lodging for whoever makes the trip and pay for a pit crew on a race weekend? Could it be last weeks winnings?

These guys are doing whatever they can to keep themselves in the garage area, especially drivers looking for rides.

Just in case you were wondering, the better you finish the more money you make, however blowing a motor or even worse demolishing your car in a crash trying to run the entire race would cost more than the difference in prize money.

Nascar is doing enough to push the little guy out of the sport (Carl Long anyone?) we don’t need something else.

I have never known any racecar driver to willingly not run a whole race if they actually have the means to do it. That’s the difference. The don’t have the means financially to do it. If the author thought about that, he wouldn’t paint a picture of these guys laughing all the way to the bank, which is ridiculous.

Doug In Washington (State)
11/19/2009 03:20 PM
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While I agree that the majority of S&P teams aren’t “laughing all the way to the bank” there are a few that are. MSRP/Prism is a gleaming example of this. MSRP has finished how many races in its existence? 1 this year, at Watkins Glen?

Other teams are using S&P to fund their full-time car. The #37 in Cup is an example. Jay Robinson and Johnny Davis do that in NW. How is that helping the “little guy” when you have multi-car, start & park organizations sucking up the spots with what are basically full-bodied sprint cars?

They’re running more laps in PRACTICE than they run in the race. Heck, some guys run more laps in qualifying (2) than they run in the race (1).

Fine- here’s another solution. If a team intends to Start and Park, they have to declare so (and not having enough crew members or buying tires is the same as declaring). You then compete for any spots left over after all the cars that claim to run the whole race get in- and generally there are fewer than 43 “whole race” cars anyway. If you DON’T declare to be a S&P but then retire for a BS reason early, you lose the prize money. If you actually broke for real, you present said broken irreparable part to NASCAR for impoundment to keep your prize money.

joe
11/19/2009 04:56 PM
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instead of dissin the s&ps make nas head in butt car stop making rules favor the big teams .they need to not let any cars on the track until they are all inspected.

joe
11/19/2009 05:00 PM
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if nas head in butt car dont wake up they will lose it all. the little guy and the fans are what lined thier pockets..

the Turnip!
11/19/2009 07:16 PM
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Here we are, going to, or suggesting to penalize a S & P car/team, because, among other things, they “outqualify” another car, that may, or may not, run the entire race itself!

Folk!! NEWSFLASH!

NA$CRAP is broken, from it’s “protected” cars with automatic starting berths, to allowing the high dollar teams and drivers, specifically the CUP drivers, to compete at the lower levels!

THE CUP DRIVERS CHERRY PICK!

Forcing the smaller teams either out, or robbing the smaller teams of sponsors and cash to run the entire race!

Lets get smart and place the blame for the S & P cars, and the reasons they do that, where it, the blame, really belongs!!

WITH NA$CRAP!

Plain and simple!

Why throw out all the ideas for penalties against the little guy?

SICK THINKING!

mkrcr
11/19/2009 08:08 PM
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All I want to see, starting with Homestead and continuing with 2010, is the 31 teams outside the Chase, Start and Park.
They’d probably get more attention than if they ran the entire race.

hmmmm
11/19/2009 09:45 PM
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get rid of the top 35 rule and see how many S&P’s you’d have… a TON