Kurt Busch to Attempt The Indianapolis-Charlotte Double
posted by Phil Allaway
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Andretti Autosport announced this morning that Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series, will attempt the Indianapolis 500 in a fifth entry for the IndyCar Series team. Once the Indianapolis 500 is completed, Busch will fly from Indianapolis to Charlotte, jump in his No. 41 Chevrolet and compete in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Busch considers the opportunity to do the double as an old-school throwback moment.
“This is really to challenge myself within motorsports,” Busch said in Andretti Autosport’s press release. “Perhaps I am a bit of an old-school racer; a throwback, I guess. I enjoyed the era of drivers racing different cars and testing themselves in other series. It is tough to do now for a variety of factors, but when the opportunity is there, I want to do it. While NASCAR is my home, I have been fortunate to compete in Pro Stock on the NHRA circuit a number of years ago and test a V8 Supercar. This opportunity was a talk with Michael [Andretti] over dinner one night, a “What if,” and now it’s becoming a reality for me to drive in the Indy 500 with Andretti Autosport. It’s literally a dream come true. To go to the famous Brickyard with the iconic Andretti name, it doesn’t get much cooler or better than that.”
Busch will be doing the Indianapolis-Charlotte double as a Memorial Day mission to men and women serving in the U.S. Military via the Armed Forces Foundation. Fans can contribute to the cause by texting AFF to 50555 to donate $10.
Busch, who has never raced an IndyCar, passed Rookie Orientation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year during a test session. At the time, Busch was more or less testing the Dallara DW12 for fun.
Busch will be the fourth driver to attempt the Indianapolis-Charlotte double. John Andretti was the first driver to attempt it in 1994. After finishing four laps down in tenth in Indianapolis, Andretti crashed and had engine problems in the 600. Robby Gordon has attempted the double five times, most recently in 2004. However, Gordon failed to make it to Charlotte on time and did not start the 600 in 2000 (P.J. Jones started Gordon’s No. 13 Ford in that instance). Finally, Tony Stewart has attempted the double twice (most recently in 2001) and is the only driver to ever complete all 1100 miles. Neither of the three drivers has won either leg of the double. The best finishes are Stewart and Gordon’s sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis 500 (although Gordon’s came in 2000, the year he didn’t make it to Charlotte in time to start the Coca-Cola 600), and Stewart’s fourth-place finish in the 2001 Coca-Cola 600.
Danica Patrick, Justin Allgaier Talk About Phoenix Incident
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
A disappointing start to the year for Danica Patrick won’t include continued conflict. Patrick met with rookie Justin Allgaier Sunday, shortly after the Phoenix Cup race after a wreck ruined both drivers’ days. Patrick, who was critical of the No. 51 car on the radio, claiming Allgaier was “driving all over the track” appeared receptive to a conversation that quickly settled differences over what will be a long season.
“She was just upset because she got involved in the crash that we had,’’ said Allgaier to the Motor Racing Network. “She says she’s been through this and that she felt like I needed to settle down at that point. I explained my position on why everything happened. I think she understood where I was coming from. It doesn’t fix either one of our racecars. It doesn’t fix either one of our days. Unfortunately, we were both having pretty decent days.’’
Allgaier wound up 30th due to the incident while Patrick was 36th. The incident, which was caused by Allgaier’s spin also involved the No. 32 team and Travis Kvapil, which wound up 38th after sustaining heavy damage.
Camping World Close to Extending Title Sponsorship of NCWTS
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World, Grand Marshal of Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway, and star of CNBC’s “The Profit,” made the announcement over the weekend that the retailer is very close to announcing a deal that would continue its title sponsorship of NASCAR’s Truck Series. The original agreement with NASCAR is scheduled to conclude after the 2015 season.
According to the sanctioning body, no formal contract has been signed, but “the agreement between the two parties has proven to be a beneficial one.”
“In about a month, we’ll be announcing a significant extension to that contract. It’s been great for us,” said Camping World’s Lemonis in a statement. “The NASCAR relationship has worked well for Camping World. When we started, we had 35 stores. Now, we’re up to 120 stores. As we travel the country and we meet new customers in stores, they always are very appreciative of our relationship with NASCAR. It’s been good.”
Gaining a long-term commitment from Camping World to sponsor the Truck Series would be a relief for NASCAR, which is set to lose Nationwide Insurance as title sponsor for the NASCAR Nationwide Series at the end of the 2014 season. The sponsorship of the Cup Series by Sprint runs through 2016.
The NCWTS is back in action on March 29th at 2:30 PM (ET) when the trucks visit Martinsville Speedway in the Kroger 250, which can be seen on Fox Sports 1. Ratings for the season opener were up 11 percent.
Harvick Takes Win At Phoenix In Second Race With New Team
posted by Justin Tucker
Monday March 3, 2014
Phoenix International Raceway has become Kevin Harvick’s home away from home. Sunday Afternoon was no exception as Harvick charged to the front early and would dominate for much of the day, leading 224 of the scheduled 312 laps to record his record fifth win on the one mile oval and his third win in the last four races at Phoenix.
Harvick, coming off of a disappointing Speedweeks which was capped by a last lap crash in the Daytona 500 in his debut with Stewart-Haas Racing, set the tone on Saturday by winning both practices while having the best 5 and 10-lap averages in the first practice of the day on Saturday. On Sunday, Harvick and his No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet was nothing short of flawless as he was able to hold Dale Earnhardt, Jr. by .489 seconds after a late race restart to claim his 24th career Sprint Cup Series victory.
“Man, this is awesome,” Harvick said after his dominant victory on Sunday. “Man, this just solidifies so many things and so many decisions. It’s been so much work with all the time and effort that these guys (the crew) have put in—but what a race car.”
Stewart Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas shared in Harvick’s excitement after the race.
“It took long enough,” Haas joked. “This is phenomenal. I think there was a lot of skepticism last year about what myself and Tony (Stewart) what we were up to, was there a lot of madness to this. Quite frankly, it’s a great team, there’s a lot of synergy at the shop, people working together. I don’t know what we did, but I think we put together a great organization.”
Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. continued his hot start to the 2014 season. Earnhardt Jr. would finish second on Sunday, marking his seventh consecutive top 10 finish since the end of the 2013 season. Earnhardt Jr. was pleased with the effort after a coast-to-coast whirlwind week after winning his second Daytona 500 and also gave great praise to the efforts of Harvick and the No. 4 team.
“I’ve got to congratulate Kevin. Those guys were two-tenths faster than everyone all weekend in practice. They were just phenomenal,” Earnhardt said. “To be able to run with them all day was a big confidence builder for us.”
Joining Harvick and Earnhardt in the top 5 of The Profit on CNBC 500K were Brad Keselowski with his second consecutive top 3 run of 2014 in third. Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate Joey Logano would finish fourth, and Jeff Gordon would come home fifth in his No. 24 Pepsi Max Chevrolet.
Jimmie Johnson finished in sixth, followed by Ryan Newman with a nice rebound after Daytona in seventh. Carl Edwards would carry the banner for Roush Fenway Racing by finishing eighth, Kyle Busch was ninth, and Jamie McMurray would finish tenth.
A look at the Profit on CNBC 500K by the numbers. There were 14 lead changes among eight different drivers, there were eight cautions for 39 laps which slowed the race pace to 109.229 MPH.
Next Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Sin City and the Las Vegas Motor
Starting Lineup: The Profit On CNBC 500K
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday March 1, 2014
Drivers in RED (i) are those ineligible to collect Sprint Cup points
Daytona 500 TV Ratings Down
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Wednesday February 26, 2014
What was the longest weather delay in Daytona 500 history turned out to bring NASCAR lower ratings and TV viewership Sunday night than expected. According to a report Monday from FOX Sports, the 56th running of the Daytona 500 airing at 8 PM (ET) posted a 5.6/10 national household rating/share which averaged 9.3 million viewers. That’s down 44 percent from last year’s 9.9, easily making it the least-watched Daytona 500 of all-time.
Due to the six-hour, twenty-two minute rain delay in Daytona, the race was up against the primetime coverage of the Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony from Sochi, Russia on NBC (15.25 million viewers). FOX also reported that 69% of the pre-rain delay viewers of the race, which began at 1 PM (ET) kept tuning in.
In comparison, the 2013 Daytona 500 on FOX was the most-watched race in five years, posting a 9.9/22 rating/share, commanding 16.7 million viewers. The Daytona 500 in 2012, the first to ever be run on a Monday and in the primetime slot did a 7.7/13 overnight rating/share which resulted in 13.67 million households viewing the race according to Nielsen TV ratings data.
Earnhardt, Jr. Claims Second Daytona 500 Victory
posted by Justin Tucker
Wednesday February 26, 2014
Ten years is a long time. For Dale Earnhardt, Jr., it felt like an eternity. NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver endured many near misses and close calls at the Daytona 500 since his only win in the Great American Race in 2004. Earnhardt had finished second in two of his last three Daytona 500s coming into Sunday’s race. He was also riding the tail of a 55-race winless streak, dating back to Michigan in 2012.
However nothing would stop Dale Jr. on Sunday, not even a 6 hour and 22 minute rain delay from capturing his second Daytona 500 win. Earnhardt Jr. led a race-high 54 laps on the evening and used some timely drafting help from teammates Jimmie Johnson and, on the final restart, Jeff Gordon to separate from the pack and secure the victory.
“Winning this race is the greatest feeling that you could feel in this sport besides accepting the trophy for the championship,” said a jubilant Earnhardt after pulling into Victory Lane. “We could fight off battle after battle. We got a little help at the end there from Jeff to get away on the restart. This is amazing. I can’t believe this is happening. I never take this for granted, man because it doesn’t happen twice, let alone once.”
Aside from the race itself the big story of the race was the 6 hour and 22 minute red flag, which threatened to move the race to Monday evening (had the race been postponed, FOX Sports’ Chris Myers had tweeted that the race would resume at 5:00pm EST). However, Mother Nature would cooperate and would allow the race to be run under different conditions from which they practiced this week. Once the race resumed, the intensity picked up from the changing track conditions. This allowed the pack to race side-by-side and at times 3-wide up to seven rows deep.
Joining Earnhardt Jr. in the top 5 for the 2014 Daytona 500 were: Denny Hamlin who closed out a spectacular Speedweeks in second, Brad Keselowski in third, Jeff Gordon in fourth, and Jimmie Johnson who overcome two wrecks leading up to the 500 in fifth.
Rounding out the top 10 in the Daytona 500 were Matt Kenseth in sixth, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in seventh and Greg Biffle would bring his No. 16 Ford home in eighth. Austin Dillon would come home ninth in his first Cup Series race in the iconic No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing, while Casey Mears would round out the top 10.
A couple of major contenders for the Daytona 500 win would see their hopes dashed early on as Martin Truex, Jr. would blow up just 30 laps into the race, relegating him to a 43rd-place finish in his debut for Furniture Row Racing. Crew chief Todd Berrier was already in Nashville for a test session before the race was even over. Kyle Busch, meanwhile would have a pit road violation just before halfway and would spend much of the race battling back from that mistake. Busch would eventually finish 19th after leading 19 laps.
Danica Patrick would also be bit by bad luck as she was caught up in a multi-car wreck on lap 145. Patrick would lead her second consecutive Daytona 500, but wouldn’t have the finish to show for it finishing 40th. Tony Stewart would encounter a frustrating evening as well, with a fuel pickup problem derailing his quest for his first Daytona 500 win. Stewart would finish 35th.
A look at the Daytona 500 by the numbers. There were 42 lead changes among 18 drivers, while seven cautions for 39 laps would slow the race pace to 145.290 MPH.
Next week, the Sprint Cup Series heads to the “diamond in the desert,” Phoenix International Raceway for The Profit on CNBC 500K. The Green flag is scheduled for 3:15pm EST.
Nationwide Series Post-Race Quotes: Drive4COPD 300
posted by Thomas Bowles
Tuesday February 25, 2014
Frontstretch Interviews – Courtesy Mike Neff
ELLIOTT SADLER – FINISHED 4th
Thoughts on the race?
It’s definitely a lot different racing than what we’re used to.
Comfortable with it?
Yeah, it’s just different. You’re worried about what you’re doing, but you’re also worried about what everyone else is doing and they’re not doing more than you’re doing. Physically pushing a guy is way better than just riding so you just gotta time it right and push it to the edge.
Happy to start the year with a top 5?
Yeah. Hell, that was the worst we ran all day, I think. I have no idea how they put the 3 car in front of us on that last restart. I hadn’t seen the 3 car hardly all day. When they put us from fifth to sixth, on the outside line, it just really boxed us in. I would have really restarted behind my teammate and given him a good push to the front. Anyways, it is what it is; we’ll take it and move on.
Looked like you were up front all day.
The guys did a good job. We had a fast race car. Great pit stops, just really proud of these guys. The car’s in one piece and we can take it to Talladega now. Great job by my guys. A lot of effort came into coming down here to Daytona and giving ourselves a shot to win. We had that chance to be up front and make some things happen. Fifth is not what we want, but we’ll take it and move on.
Bumping vs Pushing?
It’s way harder. You don’t want to lay on the guy in front of you, so it’s tough racing. A lot different than what we’re used to, ‘cause you gotta go. You gotta drag the brake too ‘cause you don’t want to hit the guys and you don’t want to stay on him. It’s a lot harder mentally than what we’ve done in the past.
Car was strong all day. Pushing vs. Bumping, is that harder to do than just getting on somebody and pushing them?
Yeah, it is a little bit. When you bump ‘em, you jar ‘em, it kinda jacks ‘em a little bit. It’s a little more abrupt, obviously. I thought it was OK there at the end. It was certainly fun and hopefully entertaining. But a little bit of a struggle in the early part of the race and the midpart of the race to see a good race. And that’s unfortunate for the fans. You can’t do that the whole race, you can’t tear up your stuff, knock your grill in, overheat your motor, all that stuff so there’s no sense in doing all that until you get down to the last lap. The 7 and the 6, they did a good job. Man, the 7 really held the 22 and I tight on the bottom. I was rubbing his door and hitting the apron at the same time, no room whatsoever. So it was good; wish we were the ones who could have won but a lot better now than what we were last year.
Going home in one piece makes it a lot better, right?
Yeah. My back feels good. My foot feels good. Past years here, I’ve been going home with pain so I’m alright.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Truck Series Post-Race Quotes: Daytona (Exclusives)
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday February 22, 2014
When you’re on the outside like that, how frustrating is it?
It’s so hard. Timothy Peters has won here. Kyle Busch has won everywhere. Ron Hornaday has been running Trucks forever, probably before I was even born. I was surrounded by veterans there, and like I told them I don’t have a rookie stripe but I’m a rookie. This is only my fourth Truck race ever, my fourth superspeedway race, and man, I figured out when the 17 got up in front of me, I pushed him. And as soon as I pushed him, he took off. And I went with him. And I just kept doing it, and before I knew it, he was leading. And I saw Ron in my mirror, backed up to him, and if it wasn’t for him, I don’t know what would have happened. I gotta thank him big time for that. That was a true teammate move right there. I really appreciate that. He just bounced off me and we got to the front. I tried my hardest to sidedraft Kyle. I was probably touching his door.
Top 5 in the No. 30 truck. This deal come together at the last minute, but you had a heck of a truck. Tell us about your night.
Yeah, I’ve got to thank Turner Scott Motorsports. The guys worked so hard on this Rheem Comfort Products Chevrolet. Exciting! Just got hung up on the outside and had to wait for my teammate there to catch up. And then he got to the bottom, so… I got the old 32 and started pushing ol’ Ryan to the front. So, it’s not bad. We’ll take it. You just don’t want to step over that boundary. You don’t know how far to push and shove. We bumped about six times down the straightaway without latching onto them. Hopefully, that was OK and we came home with a top 5.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Budweiser Duels Post Race Quotes
posted by Matt Stallknecht
Friday February 21, 2014
BUDWEISER DUELS POST-RACE QUOTES
They’re saying the wheel bearing burned up in it. I don’t know what caused it, they’re taking it all apart to figure out what the heck happened. Something abnormal that’s for sure I don’t think I’ve ever had that happen at all. Hopefully, we made the race and hopefully we can fix the problem before Sunday.
WHAT WAS THAT LOUD BOOM ONCE YOU TURNED INTO THE GARAGE?
Loud pop was a tire… thankfully, it popped, hopefully it didn’t hurt anybody. All the heat created in the left front that popped was pretty weird.
REALLY GOOD RUN. WHAT DID YOU THINK OF IT?
Yeah, it was good. We have a car we can work with for the 500. Got a good starting spot, so we’re going to rest easy, fluff and buff our car for a couple of days and get ready for Sunday.
ANY DIFFERENCE ON WHETHER THE TOP OR BOTTOM LANE WORKED?
Yeah, I was just moving around, trying to stay with the flow. For me, this car works on all parts of the racetrack. So I’m pretty happy with it.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.
GOT SHUFFLED BACK, AFTER PIT STOPS AND THEN COULDN’T GET BACK UP TO THE FRONT. WHY?
Nah, we were just sitting there waiting until the last few laps to make a move. You didn’t want to pull down and get sent to the back. Seen a couple of guys get sent to the back really quick so we were just kind of waiting for the end. I felt like we had a good situation there with Ambrose behind us — we had a good run off Turn 2 and I went. It was the last lap, time to go do something, nobody went with us but hopefully Sunday is a different story.
We got a great car. We don’t have to work hard. We learned, we got a good race car. Got a car in one piece, ready to go so we’ll try and get through the next couple of practices, deliver it to the starting group this Sunday and we’ll be real happy.
YOU’RE IN THE DAYTONA 500!
Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. This Whitetail Chevrolet was so fast that I knew all I had to do was stick it behind smart, intelligent drafters and we could have a good finish. That’s what we did in the Duels and I’m excited. I’m excited to go do some stuff with the Nationwide car and have some more practice with this. But to know that we’re locked in the Daytona 500’s pretty cool.
YOU WERE OBVIOUSLY IN FRONT OF THAT MELEE AT THE END. WHEN YOU WERE UP FRONT THERE IN THE BEGINNING, WERE YOU HOPING TO JUST STAY IN LINE AND LET YOU FINISH TOP 5?
I was pretty content to ride and luckily I knew a lot of people around us were. It was nice to have a little calm and not really have to be racing hard the whole time. I knew that the pit stop was going to shake everything up and that’s exactly what happened. Fell back a little bit there but made the right moves at the end to get a good finish.
HOW STRONG ARE THESE RCR CARS?
They’re very strong! They definitely have the capabilities to be winning one of these races.
YOU’RE IN THE TOP 5 FOR YOUR HEAT IN THE DAYTONA 500. YOUR PRIMARY CAR IS SITTING RIGHT IN THE GARAGE, KIND OF WADDED UP. DID YOU THINK THIS ONE HAD IT IN IT?
Yeah, it’s a brand new car also. It’s just not quite as good as the primary but still a damned good car. I’m just proud of everybody at RCR for building such fast race cars. All of our cars have been fast, ECR motor’s been strong, even our affiliate teams have been qualifying really good and racing good. So… excited about 2014! It’s going to be a good year.
WELL MAN, YOU STARTED IN THE BACK BUT WORKED YOUR WAY TO THE FRONT WHEN IT COUNTED MOST. WERE YOU JUST BIDING YOUR TIME THROUGHOUT THE RACE?
Eh, you never know if you’re going to get back up there or not. We had to start at the back, we had to make a run early and see what we could do. We drove right to 10th, or something like that and then it got stagnant. We tried to make something happen, and went to the back again. Drove back up to the front. Again, just really proud of my guys. Matt Kruder did a hell of a job on that pit stop getting just enough gas in to gain some spots there.
RCR CARS SEEM PRETTY DARNED STRONG. DO YOU THINK THE RCR CARS HAVE SOMETHING FOR THEM ON SUNDAY — ESPECIALLY THE THREE JOE GIBBS RACING CARS THAT SEEM TO BE THE CLASS OF THE FIELD RIGHT NOW?
Oh yeah. The 20 car was extremely fast. The 11 didn’t qualify that good, but he’s a good drafter. I think he won. We definitely have something for him.
Check in with Matt and Jay on their site at CareyandCoffey.com.
Editor’s Note: Welcome back to the Frontstretch for 2010! In preparation for going back to full-time writing February 1st, we’re trying to give you a taste of what some of our hard-hitting stories are about. This investigative report on start-and-parking was published in March, 2009. Hope you enjoy it … and get ready for more of the same in-depth reporting in 2010!
At Fontana just a few short weeks ago, millions of NASCAR fans everywhere breathed a sigh of relief. After offseason talk there wouldn’t be enough teams to fill the field in each of its top three divisions, the Cup, Nationwide, and Truck Series divisions all had enough cars to fill an entry list for the second race of the season.
But beneath the surface, all was not as healthy as it seemed. While Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, and Carl Edwards were there to win the race per usual, the reasons some cars and drivers showed up were far different than what you’d want to believe as a race fan. These teams – nestled within the middle and back of NASCAR’s starting fields — were there not to compete, but to turn a healthy profit, all while padding the sport’s bottom line in the process.
For these organizations – which have comprised up to 20 percent of the Truck Series field in some races – their version of competition is to slowly take a qualifying lap around the race track, making the starting lineup in the back of the pack – only to pull the car off the speedway in the first few laps of the race, what’s known in racing circles as the dreaded “start and park.” In doing so, they bring an undamaged car in the garage area, make off with tens of thousands of dollars in purse money, and ensure the sport collects its most important lifeline of all … cold, hard cash.
“The deal NASCAR has with television, if there’s 42 cars [at the track] they’ll go out and tell somebody pull out your backup car, find a driver,” an anonymous Nationwide Series pit crew member told Frontstretch. According to the team, who is being kept anonymous to allow them to keep their place in NASCAR, the sanctioning body loses television money if they show up to the race track without 43 cars capable of making the starting lineup.
“They won’t lose that bonus money for having a full field,” the pit crew member continued. “They don’t care if they have to put decals on their pace car and get it out there for a lap.”
That panic attack – combined with the weakness implied by having a less than full field – supposedly forced NASCAR to do whatever it could simply to bring teams to the race track these first few weeks of 2009. At Atlanta, an anonymous Truck Series driver also told Frontstretch that NASCAR had contacted them personally about running a Fontana start and park – a choice they decided not to make after the series figured out they’d have enough trucks without them making an unscheduled trip to California.
“NASCAR came to me and said they wanted more cars, they wanted to park,” said the owner/driver. “[So] we were going to go out there [Fontana] and do a start and park…for NASCAR.”
How has the quality of racing deteriorated to this point, where there are teams out there looking to simply crack the starting lineup – and then go home without competing? The history of start and parks is a long one, with businessmen looking to make a quick buck at various times throughout the 60-year history of the sport. But in particular, it’s some tough economic times this decade which have forced some of the sport’s seediest operations to come popping out of the woodwork … threatening the very existence of the sport as we know it.
Recent Start and Park History
The 2004 NASCAR season opened very much like 2009, with national economic concerns leaving many teams without sponsorship and NASCAR’s top three national touring series wondering whether or not the fields would be full. After seeing only 45 cars attempt the Daytona 500, NASCAR returned to Rockingham, and while the fields remained full, both the Cup and Busch Series ranks played host to a number of dilapidated efforts that showed up to the track with intentions of being cut a check — not cutting a fast lap.
That weekend at the Rock saw two of the most notable examples of start-and-parking in recent NASCAR history. In the Busch Series race, Jeff Fuller qualified a No. 88 Chevrolet only to run a handful of laps and park, marking what would be a full season campaign for Fuller without completing a single race. And over in the Cup Series, 59-year-old Joe Ruttman was black-flagged on the first lap in a Phoenix Racing-prepared No. 09 for not having a pit crew. That’s right, folks; the team was so bold as to announce its intentions not to compete, it didn’t have a full-time staff bother to show up at the race track.
Looking back, these two teams that took to the Rock on a cold weekend in February could be considered the antecedents to the recent “start and park” epidemic that hit the Nationwide and Truck Series ranks last season, and that has now spilled over to the Cup Series. Starting and parking has always been around — but these 2004 teams were different. These were not examples of cars struggling to survive, but of owners exploiting a business opportunity at the expense of a sport’s integrity. Five years later, their efforts are now threatening to become both a black eye on the sport’s reputation, as well as a potential hazard to the teams currently braving the current economic turmoil in pursuit of the checkered flag. Who are they? Why are they here? And what threat do they pose to NASCAR’s future? Read on to find out the many faces turning a sport based on competition into a business based on dollars and cents.
The Positive Faces of Start and Park
For just about every start and park team that has taken to the track over the last several seasons, there is a different rationale or justification for not contesting the races they attempt. And to be fair, before we get to the devastating consequences there’s a few of them that do force critics of the start and park brigade to take a second look.
Take the No. 0 team of JD Motorsports, for instance. A longtime fixture in Nationwide Series competition, JD’s No. 01 team attempted every race in 2008, many times not having any sort of sponsorship on its quarterpanels. Still, being a team that owner Johnny Davis has stated “is heavily invested in the Nationwide Series,” a lack of sponsorship has led the team to run a second car in a start and park effort simply to keep its full-time entry running. Development driver Danny Efland and current No. 01 driver Danny O’Quinn owe their shots at running the Nationwide Series in part to the funds accrued by the team’s No. 0 team. This is by far the most common explanation offered for starting and parking, one that has been employed by a number of teams such as Rensi Racing at the end of 2008 to help keep an unsponsored Bobby Hamilton, Jr. on the race track, as well as in 2009 by Brian Keselowski’s Nationwide Series team to offset weekly race costs.
For those organizations, the “start and park” isn’t exactly an exciting proposition for them … but at least they’re attempting to run one full-time team the distance, using the money for a second car solely to keep that organization afloat in tough economic times. It’s a philosophy even some Sprint Cup drivers can get on board with, despite the dissatisfaction of watching a field of 43 quickly become 42 or less by Lap 5.
“We’re going through a tough time right now,” says Cup veteran Elliott Sadler. “Car owners have to do whatever they have got to do.”
“I promise you, the people doing the starting and parking are not living a great life.”
In all honesty, it is difficult to find fault with the practices of JD Motorsports and Brian Keselowski’s Nationwide Series efforts. Both of these organizations have in fact committed time and resources to contesting a full Nationwide schedule, and both are without primary sponsorship to support them.
Occasionally, there are even success stories for individuals involved with these teams. That’s hard to believe for drivers who qualify for the main event, only to pull into the garage before you even get a chance to compete. But stories like Kenny Hendrick (no relation to Rick) are the reason why some of these drivers do it. For a full year, Hendrick toiled under the guise of start and park operations in 2008, most frequently for Stanton Barrett’s No. 31 team. In an interview last year, Hendrick described the role of his start and park entry as multi-faceted; he used his practice times at the track as a de facto test session to assist Barrett’s primary No. 30 entry with setups. Further, Hendrick’s car often carried the same sponsor decals as Barrett’s, giving the sponsors more on-track exposure — if only for a limited time.
But besides a way to make a living, Hendrick also saw his seat time as a way to get his name back in the garage…prior to start and parking throughout 2008, it had been four seasons since his last Nationwide stint behind the wheel. And some solid qualifying efforts were actually enough to attract some free agent interest in the offseason; right now, the driver is currently in a fully-funded ride in former Chip Ganassi equipment, driving the No. 42 Nationwide car for boxer Evander Holyfield.
…And Then, Everyone Else
Unfortunately, for every hard-earned success story within these start and park organizations, there’s about seven or eight whose only goal is simple: dollars and cents. And while that’s an envious proposition when you’re talking about starting a small business, the purity of sports competition is supposed to prohibit money from coming into play.
But for the past year or two, several organizations in NASCAR’s top-tier divisions have shown up merely to collect a check. In some instances, these team owners might have the best of intentions … but then wind up lost in the sea of purse money they use to simply pay off old debts. Take the case of Derrike Cope, Inc. A team formed in mid-2008, over the second half of the season DCI often entered two Truck Series and two Nationwide Series entries – cars that completed only one full race out of dozens of starts. The team was using start and park, they contended, to accrue funds to use down the road in order to run the distance regularly the following season — as well as to make their presence known to perspective sponsors.
However, Cope’s argument that start and park builds bank accounts for team building also rings hollow. Outside of running in Cup and Truck competition at Daytona, they have yet to be seen on the race track in 2009. What happened to the $150,000 + in winnings that the teams made last year building for the future? Apparently, it wasn’t enough to make them stick around and take a shot at running the first five races to lock into the top 30 in owner points.
But at least this team isn’t making a mockery of the starting lineup. For others, even full-time sponsorship doesn’t preclude them from running a second, sometimes a third car only to pull it back into the garage and collect some extra cash. Let’s look at the Gunbroker.com team in the Camping World Truck Series, for instance. The team already has sponsorship for their full-time No. 23 truck, but continues to run two additional vehicles on race day that have no intention of running the full distance. With money already secured for a full-time competitor, where’s the need to muddy the field of competition for the sake of making more money? Sure, Gunbroker.com may not be the most lucrative sponsor in the garage…but there are full-time teams out there with less sponsorship that are still able to compete. Specialty Racing in the Nationwide Series had fewer than a half dozen sponsored races in 2008, yet using primarily purse money were still able to run the distance for the entirety of the Nationwide Series schedule. If it can be done for 35 races at that level, a small-time sponsor can definitely fit the bill for 25 Truck contests.
Instead, the team chooses to make a mockery of the competition fans pay their hard-earned dollars to see. Just check out the transmissions of one of GunBroker.com’s start and park drivers, Johnny Chapman, during the race last Saturday afternoon at Atlanta. After just 11 laps, Chapman parked the car that had no pit crew in its box and was simply out on the race track to collect an $8,025 purse for finishing 35th. In fact, Chapman was in a hurry to get back to the garage…to meet someone.
Spotter: Going 10. She [unidentified person] will be ready.
And then, there’s the case of MSRP Motorsports. Formed at the beginning of the 2008 season, the Nationwide Series organization run by Truck Series announcer Phil Parsons and businessman Randy Humphrey maintains they’re starting and parking simply to have a presence on the track and to entice sponsorship. But after running 65 races in two years and failing to complete a single one, it’s an argument that appears to ring hollow. What company in their right mind is going spend their sponsorship dollars on a car that starts in the back, and runs briefly for just a few laps before packing up? History shows us the chances are nearly impossible; of all the start and park organizations formed since the 2004 season, not one has continued to remain a competitive entity in any of the sport’s top three series in 2009.
Perhaps the most disturbing comments come from MSRP’s drivers themselves, who – when cornered – refuse to admit they’re part of an operation whose primary focus is to leave the track with tens of thousands in profit.
“Honestly, I didn’t even know the MSRP team was a start and park team,” said current No. 91 driver Terry Cook at Atlanta, playing dumb to the odd coincidence of 65 straight part failures. “I just thought they had bad parts on the car. I thought we had a lot of problems.”
When pressed, Cook moved on to defend the fledgling organization.
“They’re not taking advantage of anything,” he said. “If we didn’t have teams doing it, we wouldn’t have full fields. Ultimately, we have got to thank those guys for having full fields to start with.”
“At the end of the day, all these teams are trying to do is make a profit. They don’t have the money to race weekly, so what they try and do is try and generate money by running awhile and then having enough money to race. It’s a business.”
Try telling that to the tens of thousands of fans who pack the stands each week – that they’re there to watch a business at work – and you’d probably not have a whole lot of people willing to come back and see it. But that’s what the back of the field is turning into within the top three series these days – and why not? The money’s great.
Parking for Profit
After entering Joe Ruttman in the Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway in March of 2004 only to have Ruttman complete four of the 500 laps run, car owner James Finch wasn’t the slightest bit phased by being outrun by completely overwhelmed Cup efforts such as Kirk Shelmerdine and Morgan Shepherd. His mind was on one thing and one thing only — his share of the purse.
“I made more money per lap for running four laps at Bristol than Kurt Busch got from winning,” said Finch, who in the same interview said he would continue running the Cup circuit as long as it remained profitable.
This mentality has recently proliferated across NASCAR’s garages. Continuing to use MSRP Motorsports as an example, their efforts have reduced the Nationwide Series to all but an ATM machine. The $1 million plus in earnings that the team has accumulated hasn’t come close to being invested back into racing.
Humphrey and Parsons have taken their act to the Cup Series as well now, hidden under the newly-named banner of Prism Motorsports. Dave Blaney completed less than a third of the Cup race at Fontana before quietly exiting the track due to a mechanical problem, and followed that up this weekend by running only seven laps of practice…then completing just 83 laps on Sunday before officially retiring with mechanical failure. Joining Parsons and Co. is none other than James Finch’s No. 09. Sources close to the team revealed to Frontstretch as early as last season that the team will park its Cup car quickly whenever they run without sponsorship…like this weekend. Driver Mike Bliss ran only four laps of practice Saturday, including sitting out Happy Hour, before running just 21 laps and parking due to “overheating problems.”
Why It’s A Big Deal
The start and park issue was a hot topic both in the media center and in the garage this past weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway, with attention turning to the issue more and more now that it has spilled over from the minor leagues to the Cup ranks. But, when questioned about it, the stars of the sport really couldn’t seem to care less.
“I don’t think it’s as big of an issue that some people are making it out to be,” said Jeff Burton in the media center Friday.
“What, do we have 47, 48 cars here today? It is what it is, and I don’t think there should be a whole lot of concern about it.”
“It’s expensive to do this sport,” added Kasey Kahne. “If guys can figure a way out to make a living, enjoy themselves, make the race, and pull over…I don’t see anything wrong with it. The only way I think they shouldn’t make the race is if someone comes and out-qualifies them.”
It’s perhaps not surprising to hear established Cup drivers blowing off the issue…having million dollar race teams at the front of the garage is a far cry from the guys in the back hauling their own cars with pickup trucks and working outside in a chain-link fence pen. But this take is also very misinformed.
Just ask Key Motorsports’ new No. 40 Nationwide team how they feel about the issue. The car, which had no owner points to start the season, has committed to running the distance with or without sponsorship in 2009. And, despite outrunning MSRP Motorsports’ No. 90 start and park car in qualifying at Fontana, they fell victim to the top 30 rule that locked that car in the field and missed the race. In short, an upstart team trying to establish themselves on the Nationwide circuit missed out because the NASCAR rulebook locked in a car that every person in the garage knew would park before lap 10 on race day.
The same story played out this weekend at Atlanta. Two of the most prominent upstarts in the Cup garage, Tommy Baldwin Racing and Mayfield Motorsports, missed the field on Friday night in favor of Prism Motorsports’ No. 66 and Phoenix Racing’s No. 09. Atlanta marked the second consecutive DNQ for both teams, and in the case of TBR potentially cost the team a sponsor. Sources have also told Frontstretch that because of the DNQ at Atlanta, making the race at Bristol could make or break Mayfield’s year, ruining the storyline of an underdog darling of this year’s Daytona 500.
Those two should have just qualified faster, right? Wrong. Saying that ignores the fact a team that arrives at the track simply to qualify and park has a huge advantage from the second they park their hauler. They don’t have to worry about durability issues, race setups, or preparing pit equipment. They have to make their stuff last a few laps… a challenge far removed from trying not only to qualify for a race, but to actually take part in it once the green flag falls. It’s hard to put a finger on just how big an advantage this is, especially in a time when race teams find resources more and more limited. But in the case of TBR and MMI, it was big enough to keep them out of the field.
This situation that played out in Atlanta on Friday is one that has larger ramifications for the sport than Cup drivers…and a lot of race fans in general for that matter…seem to realize. What does it say about a sport whose premier level is occupied by racers that don’t race? And perhaps most importantly, what does it do to new teams’ chances of courting sponsorship? The top 35 rule already makes being a new team all but impossible…and now having shots at making fields dashed further by start and park teams that inherently hold the upper hand in trying to race into shows is perhaps best compared to being kicked in the stomach while knocked on the ground.
Where Is NASCAR?
Until this weekend at AMS, NASCAR had never addressed this underground culture of “start and park” on a public scale. But with the numbers upping themselves to nearly a quarter of the field in some races last season, officials were finally backed into a corner where they felt they needed to make a statement.
“We owe it to the garage area [to make sure] that everybody is on the up-and-up,” NASCAR VP of Competition Robin Pemberton said Friday. “When the [teams] call [they’re] out, we will continue to look at what put those cars out. What we’re going to encourage at this level here is that people participate and do what they can do to race.”
“What we want to prevent is someone legitimately trying to do a race setup and getting bumped out by somebody that may have gone above and beyond what the spirit of the rules are.”
On the surface, this is exactly what NASCAR should be saying and doing. But Pemberton’s remarks gloss over the truth behind the sanctioning body’s actions. While saying one thing, our Nationwide Series sources mentioned at the top of this piece have no shame admitting the sanctioning body is coming to them in supposed desperation to ensure their minimum 43-car requirement is filled.
When contacted by Frontstretch about the issue, NASCAR Communications Director for Competition Kerry Tharp responded by saying, “NASCAR has absolutely no knowledge of that claim [of asking other drivers to start and park to fill fields].”
“NASCAR doesn’t anticipate having to create a hard-line rule prohibiting Sprint Cup teams from starting a race and then parking their car a few laps later,” he added. “But NASCAR plans to put an increased emphasis on making sure the reason a team gives for falling out of the race is legitimate.”
How long that stance holds is open to question, however. Sources tell Frontstretch that NASCAR was livid that on Friday, the same day that Pemberton issued NASCAR’s first stance on the start and park issue, two full-time Cup teams intending to race 500 miles at Atlanta were bumped by the two start and park operations of Blaney and Bliss.
Unfortunately, the sanctioning body has absolutely no one to blame but themselves and their own greed for the situation as it has emerged. Just as the sanctioning body has trivialized the competition it relies on for its existence just to earn a TV bonus for a full field, now team owners seeking a quick buck are realizing they can do it, too. And as they succeed, it destroys the chances of a number of competitors who can legitimately call themselves racers.
Robin Pemberton and NASCAR didn’t speak up on Friday regarding the matter simply to provide a sound bite. The statement put out Friday was years in coming, and came because the time is now for NASCAR to make some very hard decisions.
Clearly, the time is now for them to decide where they are going to draw the line. Their racing, including even the Cup ranks, is having its fields diluted by teams that are not there to compete, but to carpet-bag a living out of a sport fighting hard to stay on the track. And something has to give. Because if NASCAR doesn’t put the visions of TV bonuses dancing in their heads to bed in favor of putting their foot down for competition and leveling the playing field for the actual competitors trying to carve their way into big-time stock car racing, start and parking will continue to proliferate as a business. Underdogs like Scott Riggs and Jeremy Mayfield will continue to go home, and along with them prospective new sponsors and much needed financial support for the sport.
And the dream will be that much closer to dying out.
Doug Turnbull contributed to this article.
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“the purity of sports competition is supposed to prohibit money from coming into play.”
What’s that old quote? “Money buys speed, how fast do you want to go?”