The Frontstretch: Penske Preparing For Past Champion Provisional Sham With Hornish, Busch by Mike Neff -- Monday November 5, 2007

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Penske Preparing For Past Champion Provisional Sham With Hornish, Busch

Full Throttle · Mike Neff · Monday November 5, 2007


Kurt Busch has proved his stock car talent, winning the 2004 Nextel Cup championship. On the flip side, teammate Sam Hornish, Jr. has yet to prove he can make a race as a Nextel Cup rookie.

But both may have the same comfy exemption to make starting fields for 2008; and that has left many a NASCAR observer scratching their head in disbelief.

The word around the garage at Texas was that car owner Roger Penske is considering making a change next year to his driver lineup, taking advantage of the rules as they are written to ensure Hornish a starting spot in the first five races next season. In a move that would put all three of his cars on solid ground, Penske is thinking of putting his open wheel star turned stock car rookie into the No. 2 car – or at the very least, applying the owner's points from that car to Hornish’s ride for the 2008 season. In the meantime, Kurt Busch would have points from Penske’s third entry, the No. 06, which he plans to bring full-time in 2008. Under that scenario, the slew of Hornish DNQs which have plagued him throughout the Chase will stop in a hurry; his team would have an automatic starting spot in the first five races, based on Busch’s owner points from 2007. All the rookie would need is to flip the ignition to earn the spot; meanwhile, Busch would qualify on speed, with the luxury of his Past Champion's Provisional to fall back on should he falter.

Such a move doesn’t appear to be illegal; but while this would appear to be within the bounds of the rules as they are currently written, it is by no means how they were intended, a shady manipulation which appears as nothing more than a cheap move by what was a classy organization.

Of course, competition can often get in the way of classy, and Penske’s fire to rise to the top of the sport remains strong; he has long been haunted by the championship drought he’s endured at the NASCAR Cup level. With 11 championships in open wheel cars and multiple Indy 500 titles, he’s reached the pinnacle of everything that brand of racing has to offer; in addition, he’s won titles in Trans Am, USRRC, and SCCA Can-Am throughout a long, storied career as a car owner. Penske’s had race-winning success in Cup, too; but despite 57 victories spread over three separate decades, he has never been able to bring home the championship. For some reason, the ultimate prize has eluded him ever since he started winning NASCAR races in 1973 with Mark Donohue.

But as Penske found the road to the top that much tougher after an up and down ’06 and ’07, he’s realized that to take the next step, his team needs to once again go back to a three-car operation, hoping to take advantage of the economies of scale and compete with the Hendricks and Roush Fenways of the sport. Of course, when weighing the concept of expansion, Penske has the added benefit of having a past Cup champion in his lineup. That means increasing the number of cars will not translate into having to gamble with qualifying for that new team – as long as Penske takes advantage of the aforementioned loophole in the rules. It’s a scenario that gives him the opening he needs to give an open wheel transplant, Hornish, the cushion to develop into the stock car talent the car owner strongly believes he can become.

But while the loophole exists, should it really be taken advantage of, or for that matter even considered, by someone as classy as Penske? There has never been a question about the man's ability to manage, or to get the right people in the right positions to be successful in whatever endeavor he undertakes. The one thing that has been unquestioned about Penske since the beginning is his demand for perfection. Everything must be done the best it possibly can, and the lack of success in Cup has to be gnawing at him like a bad rash. But even with the strength of conviction that Hornish can provide the missing piece he needs, it is still surprising that someone who is such a stickler would stoop to this level to make sure his new driver makes the races to start the new season.

Of course, that decision is to move Hornish to Cup in the first place is controversial; no question, he has been less than stellar in his short stock car career. The Ohio native has yet to qualify for a race at the Cup level, and his Busch Series record is not something that legends are made of. Hornish has not scored a Top 10 finish in nine career starts in that series, with his career best being a 15th at Atlanta earlier this year; his next best finish is 25th, and he’s failed to finish nearly half his starts due to wrecks of his own making.

With that said, there is no question that Hornish is a good race car driver. The man has won the Indianapolis 500 and is a former IRL champ; however, the fendered cars do not seem to be suiting his style, and after six failed attempts to make a Cup race, it’s clear he may need some seasoning in a lower series before being labeled a competitive threat in Cup.

But the time to prepare appears to be running out. As of now, it looks like Hornish gets just two more Busch Series starts before taking the green for the 2008 Daytona 500 – no matter how he performs throughout Speedweeks.

Kurt Busch and Pat Tryson may be faced with a new challenge next season – attempting to qualify for races on speed.

Beyond the questions surrounding Hornish’s development is the ultimate issue of the intention of the Past Champion’s Provisional rule, and the fact that Penske is seemingly spitting in the face of it with his actions. This special exemption was put in place originally to try and allow for the older champions who were near the end of their careers and driving less than top of the line equipment (like Darrell Waltrip) to still be able to make the shows – allowing their large numbers of fans coming to the races an opportunity to see them run one more time. At its peak, it worked well, limiting DNQs of Waltrip and Richard Petty while allowing their fans the relief of not seeing the indignity of a NASCAR legend fail to qualify for the main event.

However, the rule was not put into place to afford a team owner the opportunity to expand his operation, giving another driver a free pass into the first five races of the season while letting a recent past champ rest on the laurels of the provisional with a new car. Certainly, there have been owners in the last few years who have juggled points to ensure that a car would be guaranteed a starting spot; but those have generally been when drivers were switching teams, and the Past Champion's Provisional was not in play. Now, the fact that Penske risks taking the points away from a true Past Champion that needs them just seems to fly in the face of the spirit of the rule. In this case, Dale Jarrett appears to be the innocent victim; with just five races remaining in his storied career, he will go from being a lock to make his final starts in the No. 44 UPS Toyota to being in jeopardy of failing to qualify every time out.

Let's hope that NASCAR will see clear of this ruse and prevent the movement of Penske’s owner points before the start of next season. Unfortunately, since there is precedent of points being moved between cars in the past, NASCAR may sit on their hands and choose to do nothing, citing the need to remain consistent. Based on what’s been seen and heard so far, that’s exactly what they appear to be doing. However, let's all hope – for the good of the sport – that they reconsider, holding up a stop sign to Mr. Penske and informing him that such shenanigans will not be tolerated.

For in the end, the proper way for Sam Hornish, Jr. to start his Nextel Cup career should be to get into races the old-fashioned way – on speed.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Racing to the Point: NASCAR Has Its Own Heartbreak Kid
Beyond the Cockpit: Brittany Force, the Fastest Force
Voices from the Cheap Seats: Advertising for Dummies
Who’s Hot / Who’s Not in Sprint Cup: Off Week-Richmond Edition
Couch Potato Tuesday: Picking The Best IndyCar On-Air Personalities


©2000 - 2008 Mike Neff and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

11/06/2007 05:04 AM

Penske has ALWAYS stretched the rules! This would be nothing new for this cheat!

11/06/2007 07:06 AM

“For in the end, the proper way for Sam Hornish, Jr. to start his Nextel Cup career should be to get into races the old-fashioned way – on speed.”

Actually, the only way ANY driver should get into races is on speed. Ditch the Top 35, ditch the “Past Champion’s Provisional”, and make EVERYONE qualify on time. If you’re determined to keep handing out mulligans, make starting spot 44 the “promoter’s option”. If your favorite driver doesn’t make it, well, tough, not every team or athlete is guaranteed a win or a championship in stick-and-ball sports either. Look at the history of the Indianapolis 500: Defending series champions (Bobby Rahal in 1993) and defending 500 winners (Al Unser Jr. in 1995) have failed to make the race by being too slow.

Maybe shennanigans like Penske’s this will finally put these “gimmies” to rest.

11/06/2007 07:26 AM

I agree with MMACK, however I would qualify the top 40 on speed and let the track owner, not NASCAR, pick the 3 provisionals. I would also allow only 2 provisonals a year per driver.

11/06/2007 07:40 AM

There has never been anything “classy” about Penske.

Mark Rubley
11/06/2007 07:44 AM

This is not Stock Car racing…. it’s racertainment brought to you by NA$CAR. Penske is just playing the game by the rules that are written. 10 years form now, if this “thing” still exist, it will make the wrestling look good. Now that will be a hoot.

11/06/2007 07:48 AM

How on earth is this any different than what DEI did with Menard?

11/06/2007 08:21 AM

Magi is right. NASCAR already “let the horse out of the barn” by letting DEI merge with Ginn and give Menard’s team the #13’s owner points.

Based on this, how can NASCAR say “no” to Penske?

Larry Johnson
11/06/2007 08:49 AM

Why is Jerrett driving for Mikey? Why is Elliot driving for Woods? Wise up it’s going on all the time!

11/06/2007 09:27 AM

Mmack has it right..qualify on time and thats it. None of this “locked in” business. EVERY driver trying to qualify has sponsors and fans that would like to see their guy out there. Some obviously don’t have the fan base of someone such as JG, JJ, or Jr. but that doesn’t mean we should buy into NASCAR’s theory of “What happens if one of the top drivers doesn’t make it in? We can’t have that..sponsors and fans would be upset..” That’s exactly what is happening now NASCAR, you just don’t see it as a problem because the drivers that are not making the show aren’t worthy of your attention. Look a few weeks back when all the guys outside of the top-35 qualified better than alot of the top teams yet a bunch were sent home. That was pretty fair NASCAR. Sam Hornish has proven he can drive open wheel cars, no doubt, but at this point after so many attempts to_just qualify..alone on the himself..and he can’t get that done maybe its best he learn a little more about stock cars and their handling characteristics. The guy has only had a limited number of Busch starts that haven’t lit the world on fire,(keeping in mind that even if he had a best of a 15 place finish that the field probably had 10-12 Buschwhackers so I guess that would have to be taken into account).
While I see the point that Gene is trying to make with track owners picking the last spots of the field I just have to disagree on principle as NASCAR is already having issues with backdoor deals and whatnot..last thing I’d want to do is add yet one more item that can be manipulated. (example: You want us to perhaps consider your track for another date? Hmm..we like so-and-so this week to be in the field.” farfetched? Not sure when it come to NASCAR anymore.

11/06/2007 09:33 AM

This is one area where NASCAR should take some pointers from the NHRA. Everyone gets in on speed. If you’re not up to speed, go home and work on it.

11/06/2007 09:33 AM

One quick add on: I haven’t checked on Hornish a victim of the Top-35 in the times he has tried to qualify? Has there been times he would’ve made it in if there was no Top-35 rule but because of it he was actually knocked out? If so it would be hard to knock Hornish if he’s fighting to get into the race with 10 other guys for a few spots..almost can’t blame Penske if that was the case for trying to find a work-around for the idiotic Top-35 rule.

Margo L
11/06/2007 09:45 AM

Okay Neff , we got the point . You hate everything about Penske and also Hornish Jr. You seem to feel that Penske is out to single handedly destroy the purity of NASCAR . And Hornish Jr. , where does he get off trying repeatedly to qualify for a NASCAR race ? Someone needs to point out to him , and Penske , that no driver in history has ever had trouble qualifing for a NASCAR race until he came along . How dare they !
The Champions provisional has turned into the biggest joke in stock car history . Waltrip pretended to still have a career for years by milking the provisionals , and in the process made a fool of himself . Meanwhile other drivers were forced to go home each week even though they were faster than him because he could hide behind the provisional . And we’re still not through with it because we have Elliot also milking it each week .

11/06/2007 10:04 AM

Hornish would have made the field at Dover, Talladega and Martinsville.

11/06/2007 10:04 AM

Penske didn’t write the rules, he’s just using them to his best advantage, as he should.

As for DJ being a “victim” of the rules, I see it quite differently. He’s cashed in quite nicely on the champions provisional rule in the form of his big contract with MWR, where the promise of a starting spot if the new team was not up to speed was a major consideration. If he does not use up his alloted champion’s provisionals in the first six races because of Penske’s ploy, and one of the MWR teams is again out of the top-35, don’t be shocked to see him “un-retire” for a few more races later in the season.

11/06/2007 10:30 AM

It would be easy to get the teams to quit considering this option. Get rid of the Champion’s Provisional. It has long outlived its purpose and is being abused.

11/06/2007 10:48 AM

The top-35 rule is a mess, but the speed-only argument has a gaping hole in it.

Remember folks, Michael Waltrip took a pole. How did he do it? At an impound race where the top teams worked on race setup and the go-or-go-home crowd put qualifying setups in. That creates a situation in which cars that are going to race like dump trucks are in the front of the field. If you watch racin’ for the wrecks, you’re gonna love it. If you love racing…? Not a pretty sight. Getting rid of the top-35 rule would make this a regular occurrence.

Now you could get rid of impound races, but that adds to costs. The teams that supposedly would benefit from race-your-way-in would be at a growing disadvantage.

I like the idea of a limited number of provisionals—five or six would do it. That ensures the top teams will make the race and fans will get their hard-earned dollars worth when they go to a race, but increase the odds that a new team could work its way in.

While we’re talking about changes, I would limit each driver to a certain number of “Lucky Dogs.”

11/06/2007 10:54 AM

Denis makes a good point. If I’m not mistaken, John Force failed to qualify for an event earlier this season or possibly last season. He’s a 14 time champion in his division. Not fast enough? Go home! See ya next week. How do you think his fans and $pon$or$ felt? This was originally for Richard Petty, who I don’t think actually used it that much. Then D.W. used it 20 times in one season, because his team at the time didn’t give a #*&@ about qualifing. Unfortunately, they didn’t give a #*&@ about race set-up either.
Qualify the top 40 or 41 on speed, and maybe have two provisionals. One for the best non-regular who didn’t make the show, and one for the past champ. But limit it to two for the season.

11/06/2007 11:02 AM

Nascar needs to take lessons from the NHRA.

If you don’t make qualifying, you go home. Doesn’t matter if you’re 14 Time NHRA Champion John Force or the new guy on the block.

NHRA gets alot of respect because you have to race your way no matter who you are. GOOOOOOOOOO NHRA!

Managing Editor
11/06/2007 11:14 AM

Chris2 makes a VERY good point; and without further ado, here’s Sam Hornish’s qualifying results in the races he’s attempted:

13th fastest – Talladega (a throwaway considering the setups the non-Top 35 teams use for qualifying)

35th – Atlanta (would have made the race under the old provisional rules)

38th – Martinsville (DNQ either way)
42nd – Dover (ditto)
45th – New Hamphshire (ditto)
47th – Lowe’s (ditto)

So, under the old rules he would have been one for six; still not much better, and Hornish would not have gotten over the hump until last weekend.

Thanks, all of you, for your insightful comments and for reading FS!

- The Managing Editor

Barry Kentrup
11/06/2007 11:51 AM

Roger Penske is a genius!! His selection of Kurt to drive the 2 was one of the BEST decisions made in all of NASCAR history. No, I am a JG and Hendrick fan since Bill quit driving full time.

Roger making the best of the assets he has available is what makes racing so much fun. I watched DW ruin any respect anyone had for him prior. I saw DJ make a fool of himself last year.

JG would have six championships except for the rules of NASCAR. This is another rule of NASCAR, I don’t like it but I think Penske is BRILLIANT for using the rules to his advantage.

11/06/2007 12:06 PM

Alot of these comments are crock and the reason I am so strong in my opinion is because ; remember back when VILLINEUVE qualified and went to the back to appease the “people” of N.A.S.C.A.R. and everybody applauded it but now when a driver appears unworthy we bash N.A.S.C.A.R. for allowing a driver to be granted diplomacy.Come on N.A.S.C.A.R. fans let’s be straight up and give racers like VILLINEUVE our support for earning a spot and keeping it ; and calling him a whimp when he forfits it for the sake of crybabies like those at the Hendrick stable if we are going to bi##ch about Hornish getting a free-b!

11/06/2007 01:18 PM

I agree that it is a pretty shady move to manipulate the past champions provisional to expand a team’s operations.

Penske should have never folded the 77 team after he left Kvapil go. Even 2 years ago a top 35 was extremely valuable, and given the imminent arrival of Toyota expanding the car counts, Penske shouldn’t have been so short-sighted.

However as for the whole this could screw DJ out of a fitting retirement, I don’t buy it for a second. DJ is the reason they changed the privisional for the way MWR tried to exploit it (but failed miserably so far I might add).

Penske should take some heat for it, but Waltrip deserves more, he tried it this year, and next year’s “retirement tour” for Jarrett is nothing more than their attempt to bring a car into the top 35.

So who deserves a top 35 slot more? Penske a cornerstone team of Nascar for 20 years. Or MWR a lousy startup team that hasn’t earned anything? I’m not sure, but I’d go with Penske.

11/06/2007 01:20 PM

So do you think drivers will now put a clause in their contracts which states that the points they earn STAYS with them?

I can tell you that if I were Kurt, I wouldn’t want to sign back up with Roger Penske.

Maybe Kurt will just let up on the peddle a little so he doesn’t make the race. But he will still get paid by Roger Penske.

11/06/2007 01:44 PM

Falcon325 said:“Remember folks, Michael Waltrip took a pole. How did he do it? At an impound race where the top teams worked on race setup and the go-or-go-home crowd put qualifying setups in. That creates a situation in which cars that are going to race like dump trucks are in the front of the field.” But isn’t this exactly how all teams used to qualify?!? All teams in qualifying trim on Friday and then you spent Saturday switching/testing in race trim for Sunday’s race. Now your saying that the guys that still do this, the ones outside of the top-35 could potentially cause wrecks due to this? You’ve proven exactly_why the top-35 does not work properly. The teams in the top-35 have nothing to worry about getting into the race so they concentrate on race trim only..while the guys outside the top-35 need to race their way in with qualifying trim. This creates a level playing field that NASCAR speaks about so often how exactly? In NASCAR’s “Alice in Wonderland” logic it does.

11/06/2007 01:48 PM

Sounds good to me .Ever one is doing it so they should to.

11/06/2007 02:48 PM

jdunn was correct about the 77 Penske, but it excapes all of you where those points went the next yr. for no reason except $$$ to M Waltrip, the whole family has ruined the reason those things exist. Talk about NO CLASS!! I can’t remember an article condemming Waltrip for any thing they do, & if DJ gets outshuffled, good!

11/06/2007 05:47 PM

I wouldn’t be too worried about Hornish Jr. next year regardless. He’ll quickly fall out of the top 35 once the 6th race of the season begins anyhow. His Busch series finishes were not very good with the superior equipment he had in that series. Another part time year in the Nationwide series would probably be a lot better for him than running laps in 30th place or worse every week in the Cup series. The bubble cars next year are going to be the same ones as this current year. They will include car numbers 7, 21, 45, 38, 88, 15, 96, 06, 00, 55, 10, 37, 27, 44, 4, 66, 83, 84, and 70. I also don’t think I’m going on much of a limb with these predictions either. I even predict a car from a top team falling out of the top 35 due to bad luck in the first 5 races next year as well. The race for the 35th spot this year is actually pretty interesting with the prize being an automatic start in the Daytona 500.

True Fan
11/06/2007 06:57 PM

I personally find it quite repulsive to read this discustingly rhetorical nonsense about the rules, regulations and what have you when really deep down inside we’re p’d-off that our driver isn’t winning! So you guys go ahead and wax philisophical all you wan’t and I’ll keep it real and just say wait to next year and my guy will get em!!

11/06/2007 07:28 PM

Truefan, I agree in the sense that I always hope that my guy will win one but I tend to think of the whole sport, not just one driver. I’m not p’d-off at all that my driver hasn’t won one this year and nor does the top-35 play any part of it but I do have a passion for this sport as a whole..from the top to the bottom and everything in between so that to me is “keeping it real”

True Fan
11/06/2007 07:44 PM

Chris2 – I respect your point of view. Thanks for your insight!

11/06/2007 08:08 PM

As I repect yours as well. Its interesting to see that there are a few recent columns that have really brought out some passion for the sport from various posters. Good to see.

True Fan
11/06/2007 08:20 PM

It seems to me that I should develope more interest in the sport as a whole if I am going to continue to be a “True Fan”.

11/06/2007 08:42 PM

If you know the difference between “Loose” and “Tight” your halfway there..and if you don’t the guys in the booth, (pick a network, doesn’t matter which one), will be glad to tell you the diference every 15 laps.;-) Oh, and a slight does jerk me a bit when my driver has a lousy run..I shouldn’t say it doesn’t bother me, if it didn’t then I wouldn’t be a true fan either.

True Fan
11/06/2007 09:46 PM

Thanks again for the corespondence Chris2 and thanks Frontstrectch for the forum ; gotta go do my N.A.S.C.A.R. “research” catch ya tommorow.

11/07/2007 07:29 AM

Bashing Penske but Jarrett/MWR a innocent victim…you have got to be joking. Waltrip has bought owners points from two different cars, if I remember right and bought Copes ride at Charlotte. Jarrett sold his PCPs and this year has shown his championship was probably a result of RYRs HP and cars not his sorry driving ability. Full speed ahead Penske…You are not making any more of a mockery out of the rules than the rest of them.

race fan
11/07/2007 02:16 PM

cant blame the man for using THEIR rules against them …its all about the money and na$car is proving it …where else can sponsors spend a butt load of money to exclude their competitors from participating too ? These deals should have been a CLEAR signal that its no longer about competition to the folks in charge …so why would it be to anyone competing ????

11/07/2007 04:28 PM

Race fan, I agree..I just responded to True Fan about this very thing in the “SMI Acquisition Of New Hampshire Serves to Benefit Sport, Fans” column.

11/08/2007 09:08 PM

The biggest issue I have with the Top 35 rule that causes all these points swaps is the fact that this year’s performance has a huge impact on next year’s season. With the old provisional system, only the last few spots in the early races were affected by prior year results; now 83.7% of the Daytona 500 field will have qualified for the race by the end of this November. That’s asinine!


Contact Mike Neff

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