The Frontstretch: Did You Notice? ... The Start And Park Scam, NASCAR Is A Team Sport, And RCR Comes Up Short by Thomas Bowles -- Wednesday February 25, 2009

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Did You Notice?… The latest way in which NASCAR’s “locked in” qualifying rule has spiraled out of control? For the past year plus, MSRP Motorsports has existed in the Nationwide Series for seemingly one goal – to make money. Each week, the team owned by Phil Parsons’ wife, Marcia, and Randy Humphrey trots out two unsponsored Chevrolets, hoping to simply qualify within the field of 43. It’s their only big hurdle to clear each weekend – not so they can compete, but so they can gain the opportunity to park their cars before they’d need to make an actual pit stop. Doing that pockets them as much cash as possible while avoiding costs like a real pit crew, extra sets of tires, etc. In 63 career starts in the series, the team’s No. 90 and No. 91 cars have been running at the finish a total of zero times. That’s right … zero. I don’t care how many times you tell me just qualifying is enough to court sponsors; a record of 0-for-63 isn’t going to get anyone to sign on the dotted line. That’s the biggest bunch of baloney I’ve ever heard.

This weekend was anything but smiles for Scott Wimmer, whose Key Motorsports entry was sent home in favor of field-filler Johnny Chapman.

So, what’s the reward for this team’s open admission they don’t come to the track to compete? Why, a free starting spot in every race for the next few weeks! With JR Motorsports’ No. 5 car running a limited schedule this year, beginning at California a “locked in” position in the starting lineup was transferred over to the No. 90 of MSRP. Johnny Chapman promptly used that provisional to make the field – knocking out a guy in Scott Wimmer who would have run the full race – then promptly parked the MSRP car after 10 laps due to “ignition” problems. At stake was a total of $28,808 in prize money, very important to a car owner in Humphrey, who – as we’ve previously documented in past columns – publicly acknowledges his desire to keep from racing if at all possible.

There’s so much wrong with this picture, I don’t even know where to begin. First off, allowing these shenanigans cancels out NASCAR’s initial claim for using the top 30/35 rule in the first place – that the old provisional system would allow cars to make the field that never intended to run a full race. Secondly, the fact that one of the sport’s most beloved public figures – Truck Series announcer Phil Parsons – is openly involved with an organization mocking the basic principles of competition comes out as nothing short of embarrassing for the sport.

But here’s the best part of it all — the two have started a Cup team, the No. 66 Prism Motorsports Toyota. Yep, that’s the same car which “earned” the champion’s provisional at Daytona through Terry Labonte (despite being slow all during Speedweeks), then turned a total of one lap of practice from the Duels to the race before finishing on the lead lap in 24th. Last weekend, this team was up to its old tricks, pulling an early exit into the Cup garage with an unsponsored car and driver Dave Blaney. The reason for quitting the race after just lap 50? “Fuel pump” issues. But I’m sure Mr. Humphrey had no such concerns pumping gas into his own car after a 42nd place check for $82,335 landed on his doorstep.

Darrell Waltrip said recently that if a team qualifies for every race in Cup and collects last place purse money, that’s a tidy $3.4 million sum. With that amount of cash to play with, I can see why greed could trump honor in more than a few cases. There’s just only one problem with this whole picture … isn’t racing supposed to be a sport, not a business? I’m sure 80,000 fans don’t come to the track each weekend to see a car run in circles real slow and park it after just five laps. The tickets are expensive enough – let’s spare them the travesty and find some type of solution so this ridiculous behavior gets stopped.

Did You Notice?… This year at California, there were 19 lead changes amongst 11 drivers … a total nearly double the 9 lead changes we experienced in the Great American Race?

Do you realize that if you didn’t see both events, you’d actually believe the racing out in California was better than 500 miles of restrictor plate competition at one of NASCAR’s most legendary tracks? I initially thought this year’s edition of Daytona just wasn’t as bad as people were making it out to be … but the more I distance myself from it, the more I comprehend just what was making people upset after all.

Did You Notice?… One of the “Big Four” giants has gotten off to a terrible start following Kevin Harvick’s win in the Bud Shootout? For years, the weakness of Richard Childress Racing has been intermediate tracks 1.5 to 2 miles in length. But Sunday’s sorry performances were well below the norm … even for them. Kevin Harvick was the only one of RCR’s four drivers consistently running in the top 15, and his night went up in smoke after his car blew its engine – marking the No. 29 car’s first DNF since Dover in September, 2006.

It’s early, but Casey Mears is already back to his old habits of mediocrity.

Two races in, it’s always hard to draw any type of serious conclusions; but in particular, the performances of both Jeff Burton and Casey Mears are particularly troubling for this group. Burton looked like his car had the speed of the bulldozer painted on the side of its No. 31 at California, finishing a disastrous three laps down in 32nd place. Among those cars finishing in front of him: the underfunded No. 34 of John Andretti, whose Front Row Motorsports car didn’t even qualify for but a handful of races during 2008. Add in a hard crash at Daytona to the mix, and Burton finds himself just 31st in the season standings – second-lowest of any team that made the Chase last year (Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is 35th). His new teammate hasn’t done much better, with Mears 21st in points and without anything substantial yet to justify being signed off the scrap heap of Hendrick Motorsports.

Who’s the lone exception to RCR’s slow start? Clint Bowyer – the man moved unceremoniously to a new fourth team in the stable – is sitting a solid seventh in the standings. Interesting how the man who was seemingly pushed aside is overachieving with a car that didn’t exist twelve months ago.

Did You Notice?… That California has become so sick and tiring to talk about, I think we need to forget about this place for a few months and just move on. A few odds ‘n’ ends to clean up, though:

  • Yes, having attended the race in 2008 and 2009, I can tell you there was a slight uptick in attendance during the Cup show. But no sellout is no sellout and very embarrassing for several teams courting sponsors after the Daytona 500. I had one marketing person tell me one of the first questions a prospective backer asked him at the race track was, “Where are all the people?” That’s not exactly a question you want to answer when you’re asking someone to give you millions of dollars in cash.
  • Hugh Laurie had such an accent giving the command to start engines, I thought the fake Sean Connery from the old SNL Jeopardy skits of the ‘90s was back. I pose a riddle to you, a conundrum if you will; where were all the other stars besides Laurie, Angie Harmon, and Jason Sehorn? Oh, that’s right … the Oscars. Because the sport decided to go up in direct competition with the Awards show. Smart … very smart.

Did You Notice?… How much difference a pit crew makes to the success or failure of a race team? With Drew Blickensderfer taking the helm of the No. 17, the “Killer B’s” have been at the top of their game — yet another reason why their talented crew chief is the hottest head wrench on the circuit. At California, the B’s produced a net gain of 10 spots for their driver on pit road, including putting him out front when it counted the most – following the race’s final caution on Lap 213.

Now, compare that with Kenseth’s teammate, Greg Biffle, who had perhaps the fastest car but a crew that lost him a total of 13 spots on pit road. Of course, their biggest mistake was nothing but the driver’s fault, with Biffle coming in too hot and sliding over the air hose as he made his final stop. Had the team at least held serve on their final stop, it could have very well been the No. 16 in Victory Lane instead on Sunday night.

Just goes to show you how this is a team sport more than ever before these days.

Contact Tom Bowles

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Jeremy
02/25/2009 01:34 AM
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I totally agree with you on MSRP. Those guys, and all the the other start-and-parkers are nothing but a bunch of lowlifes who steal starting spots from teams who legitimately want to compete. I can’t believe NASCAR still has not seen through the deceit and do the right thing of banning them from entering any more races.

Kevin in SoCal
02/25/2009 03:25 AM
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Remember, this is America, supposedly the land of the free. There’s nothing in the rules that says a race car must run all the laps. Yes they’re taking advantage of the rules, and it stinks, but its still their priviledge to do so until NASCAR changes the rules. If Scott Wimmer wants to run the race, he needs to be faster than the guys he is qualifying against.

marshall
02/25/2009 06:18 AM
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Tom , you might want to check the RCR teams . Maybe they are using the “ start and park “ . Your feigned outrage over something you know very little about brings up an obvious question . I noticed you think the reasons for the Parsons team falling out of races were bogus . Then tell us please what reasons are going to be allowed in your NASCAR utopia . And who shall we choose to police the garage area and investigate to see if these cars really do have the problems they claim to have .
Teams who don’t have big sponsors have always had to bring home prize money any way they can . And with the exception of a few writers , i don’t see a huge groundswell of support to throw the Parsons team out of NASCAR . Until NASCAR decides that the top 35 rule is a mistake , the teams that make it into a race are allowed to run said race any way they see fit within the rules .
And with all of the really serious problems the sport has , i’d say the hand wringing over the Phil Parsons team is a little silly .

Bill B
02/25/2009 07:09 AM
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All they need to do to stop start and park opportunists is to prorate the prize money. If you make it to the halfway point then you get the full prize, if not your money is prorated based on the number of laps you’ve run. That would solve this problem.

M. B. Voelker
02/25/2009 07:48 AM
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While I think that the Top 35 nonsense is completely bogus — a drastic over-reaction to an incident where a couple sponsored-but-lousy teams who deserved to miss the field <gasp> missed the field — I have little sympathy for the teams who are knocked out by the start and parkers.

If you can’t outrun a start and park team you don’t deserve to be in the race because you’ll be nothing but a moving chicane multiple laps down.

Mike In NH
02/25/2009 07:49 AM
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Anyone want to pool their cash with me and start a NASCAR team? I mean, for a half mill or so we could buy a car and get it to run just fast enough to pocket 3.4 Mill, that’s a hefty return on investment! But I’m guessing we won’t get to put Frontstrech.com on the hood ;)

Justin
02/25/2009 09:24 AM
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I agree that start and park teams are a disgrace to the sport, but there isn’t a whole lot that can be done under the current system. I feel bad for Wimmer not making the race last week, but under Nascar’s top 30/35 rules someone is always bound to get screwed.

As long as Nascar keeps the status quo, teams will abuse the system, and honestly they are only doing what is allowed.

Is it bad for the sport to start and park, yes; was it bad for the sport to prop up fading past champions with unlimited provisionals, yes; and is it bad to allow owners point transfers, yes.

I think Nascar has to revisit their qualifying and point systems. Obviously nascar has done something right to last for 60 plus years, but at the time I think a big reason for declining ratings and the growth of the sport plateuing is the perceived notion that so much of this sport can be manipulated and rules were made to be bent, it not broken.

I wish nascar would just franchise teams already. If that means there would only be 11-12 owners and prevent new blood coming into the sport, then so be it. We are heading to there being only 10-12 teams left anyway, and who was the last competitive start up? Granted MWR and Red Bull are new to the sport and to differing degrees successful, I think they would have bought exisiting teams to come in anyway if there had been a franchising system in place already. Red Bull’s deep pockets could have afforded it.

While it is nice to see guys like Mayfield, Nemecheck, and Baldwin back at the track will they ever realistically field a competitive team? Probabaly not.

You would think guys like Phil Parsons would have more respect for the sport than running a start and park.

Thats all I have to say about that

HankZ
02/25/2009 12:48 PM
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Ethics in any organization starts at the top. If it ain’t there, the minions run amok.
I’d do the same thing for 82 grand and would sleep like a baby.

Bobb
02/25/2009 12:54 PM
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Hey Bowles!

Put your money where your mouth is… field a team or two and knock the start and parkers out of the game!

Bowles… you’re a whiner without the essence… get lost! It takes absolutely zero courage to complain; that leaves you… where?

There’re two kinds of people in this world… those that appreciate what’s in front of them, and those that always find something to gripe about.

So, Bowles… step up to the plate, man up, and solve the problem!

The last time I checked, the “we need” list didn’t include whiney brats like you!

Raymond
02/25/2009 01:13 PM
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The competition is sport, but the fielding of a team is business, and the higher up in the big leagues you are, it is all business. Even high level short track racing has been a business for many teams for years! Kyle Petty stated not long ago that the ONLY reason Cup Owners have Nationwide Teams is for the MONEY.

Shawn
02/25/2009 02:41 PM
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Nobody likes the start and park teams, but I do like the idea that anyone who shows up to race has the opportunity to make the show. The top 35 rule obviously restricts that idea and I have a bigger problem with that than I do with the start and park teams. Of course when one of the start and park teams takes out an actual driver ala Gunselman it shows that maybe Nascar should be a little more strict in which drivers are allowed to race in their races, but ultimately if their car is fast enough to qualify for the show then they make the race regardless of their intention for the race. I tend to doubt that Dave Blaney is purposely starting and parking. Sometimes the lesser teams have lesser equipment.

It is both a sport and a business and like in any business there will be people who take advantage of loopholes in the system. Of course they should get rid of the top 35 rule, but they won’t. Can you imagine if Dale Jr is somehow outside of the top 35 after 5 races. Sure Hendrick is more than capable of providing him a car capable of qualifying and if anything it would probably make Nascar come up with an even more contrived format for qualifying in order to make sure the stars continue to have no fear of not making races.

Sharon
02/25/2009 02:45 PM
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Hugh Laurie is English!

Ben Smith
02/25/2009 07:20 PM
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That was Hugh Laurie’s natural speaking voice. He was a fixture in British TV and films for years. His fake accent shows up when he is seen on House.

Shrugging...
02/25/2009 08:26 PM
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I remember reading an interview from ways back with one of the earlier NASCAR drivers. He was talking about the pride and honor, mostly pride, involved while one races. He talked about how battles were not just battles between cars, but between the drivers. No one “pulled over” for anyone and battling on lap 1 meant as much as battling on lap 100. You beat the other guy to show you’re better. Strong characters and strong wills made stock car racing the dirty, hard-nosed competition we all love. Granted this person was talking about “letting people by”, but if you’re gonna park anyway, you’re essentially letting everyone by…for good.

I think people nowadays are cut from something softer than my parents’, or especially my grandparents’ generation. I’ll admit I’m only 22 and am going off speculation and conversations with my grandparents, but it seems now if there’s an opportunity or a loophole in anything it gets abused. There’s no room for class or character.

I bet if you put someone like Cale Yarborough in a “start and park” car and it was “time to come in”, he’d probably stick around and see what he could get out of it. Either that or he wouldn’t hop in the car to begin with. I don’t know, I think it’s a bigger problem than a set of exploitable rules; It’s just how people are now. Granted, making a quick buck isn’t anything new, but doing it honorably doesn’t seem to matter.

Matt
02/25/2009 09:22 PM
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I have to say that this start and park thing is a joke, The fastest 43 cars should race everyweek, I would like to see Gordon or Stewart or even JR go to there sponsors and tell them why they didn’t make it. The sport is called RACING not PARKING

I am an ex- racing employee and in my opinion the sport is messed up. There are over 700 people out of work because of Nascar, controlling what sponsors can and can’t come in the sport is a bunch of BS. There would be more sponsors and real teams in the garage that want to RACE if Nascar would allow them into the sport. They are doing what is best for them and there pockets and not what is best for the sport. This no testing crap just put more out of work and more money in the owners pocket. It really hurts the little teams. The new teams that are coming in do not do anything for the unemployed as they don’t have money to pay anyone except Nascar so they can can a few laps and then park it. So next time you watch a race look and see how many are out early mainly in Trucks and Nationwide Series the trucks are the worst over ten start and parks at Cali. they might as well start 26 trucks and 35 Nationwide cars. This is my opinion and my experience only.

Max
02/26/2009 02:43 PM
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It seems to me that honest folks just don’t get to run businesses.

Or is it that honest folks start businesses, but get a taste of the $$ and become dishonest because greed takes over?

How come you never hear of honest business owners, CEO’s etc. who are applauded for their sense of fairness and honesty…

And integrity?

Are there any like that out there somewhere?

Because whether it be Nascar, other corporations or the governments, I don’t think there is an honest man out there running any of them.

Matthew
02/28/2009 12:20 PM
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If Nascar got smart they
would inspect for the issue in question if it turns out to be smoke & mirrors here is what the
logical punishment should
be.

1st Offense-Fine against
crew chief & driver.

2nd offense-same as 1st
but add lifting of driver
& team owner points put
on board to date.

3rd offense-no rights
to race for remainder
of season do to barring
by NASCAR

 

Contact Tom Bowles

Recent articles from Tom Bowles:

Did You Notice? ... Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
Did You Notice? ... Drivers Still Make A Difference... But Silly Cautions Don't
Did You Notice? ... NASCAR's Free Agent Lynchpin, Uncomfortable Reality And Gambling
Did You Notice? ... Toyota Trouble, Limping Into Action And Testing The Waters
Did You Notice? ... Keep On Asking, And You Will Receive A Qualifying Sigh Of Relief

If you want to know more about Tom Bowles or to view all of his articles here at the Frontstretch, check out his archive and bio page.

Want even more Tom Bowles? Check out Tom's archive at SI.com.