Kevin Rutherford · Tuesday August 13, 2013
Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at The Glen featured its share of difficulties for an array of drivers, ending the day prematurely for some. There was David Reutimann’s blown engine on lap four, for instance. A crash took out Tomy Drissi, Victor Gonzalez Jr. and Travis Kvapil. So on and so forth.
In all, nine different drivers failed to be running at the finish at Watkins Glen, but here’s the kicker: all of them had legitimate problems that took their cars out of the running.
In other words, no start-and-parks.
That makes twice in three weeks that a Sprint Cup race has featured no teams that performed what’s referred to as a start-and-park, a practice carried out by teams that don’t have the money to buy all the equipment necessary to compete in all the laps of a given race, instead doing just enough to qualify for the event before pulling into the garage after a certain amount of laps and collecting the purse money allotted.
The last time was just two weeks prior, at the Brickyard 400. There, not only did zero start-and-parkers occupy the starting field. By the end of the 160-lap event, all 43 cars were still running.
Having a race sans start-and-parkers may be a rare feat, let alone two in such a short timespan. But also having every single driver finish the race? That’s even rarer. Like, that’s the first time it’s happened all season. And since 2012. And 2011.
Actually, you have to go all the way back to 2008 to find the last time it happened. On Sept. 7, 2008, at the Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond, all 43 drivers that started the race finished it, too.
Even then — and, really, always — having every driver running at the end of the race is tough to attain. Sprint Cup races are often 400 or 500 miles in length, and plenty of things can happen in that time period, from engine and other parts failures to crashes sometimes outside one’s control. You didn’t necessarily need S&P organizations to add to the DNF total because way more often than not, a driver or car saw to it that the DNF quota was filled anyway.
Then came 2009. That year was noted for bringing in an assortment of new teams into the series, some of which made few attempts to run the full race. Teams like Nemco Motorsports, Tommy Baldwin Racing and whatever name Phil Parsons was calling his team at the time (Prism Motorsports that first season) were at the forefront. In an environment where sponsorship dollars were hard to come by, start-and-parking became a necessary evil for some and a way to fund a business for others.
By 2012, even more teams had added their names to the hat, making for a variety of race weekends that saw a large number of parks. In fact, 2012 as a whole had only one race all season without even one start-and-park team — the season-opening Daytona 500. That, of course, makes sense; after all, if a team enters the 500 unsponsored, chances are they’re going to pick up an inquiring business for the biggest race of the year, like Scott Speed and Leavine Family Racing did with Dish Network earlier this year.
But in more heartening news, that number has already been eclipsed in 2013 — and then some. While 2012 had just one race sans start-and-parkers, the 2013 season has seen four: the Daytona 500, Talladega’s Aaron’s 499, the Brickyard 400 and last weekend’s Cheez-It 355 at The Glen. That’s nearly 20 percent of the 22 races run this season — not a large number by any means, but definitely a marked improvement.
It helps, of course, that there are less start-and-park organizations these days. For instance, Joe Nemechek’s Nemco Motorsports, which prior to now focused on its decent Nationwide Series program, has cut down on its start-and-parks, failing to finish only six races and even having legitimate issues in many of those. Tommy Baldwin Racing has expanded to two teams and has only parked its No. 36 a miniscule amount. Front Row Motorsports changed its No. 26 to the No. 35, and the change has apparently prompted them to park the car a lot less, with Josh Wise running the full race in the vast majority of events this season.
Even Parsons’s team and Humphrey Smith Racing have run the occasional race in 2013. Neither team is completely full time either, which helps in certain occasions when they could conceivably be the only team not running the full race.
It’s said the economy is improving, which may be the culprit for many teams’ increased success, turning former start-and-park organizations into bona fide teams. Heck, Front Row Motorsports not only won a race this year — they finished one-two.
That’s not to say Michigan this weekend will continue the trend; multiple teams on the preliminary entry list don’t have sponsors listed, often a telling sign of a start-and-park. Bristol and Atlanta in the coming weeks aren’t particularly encouraging, either.
But hey, four races without a start-and-park driver in the race? An entire race without any DNFs?
Maybe 2014 brings good tidings for the Sprint Cup Series.
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