The Frontstretch: Did You Notice? ... Fixing NASCAR's Penalty Problem, Sponsor Hogs, And Why Parity Doesn't Matter by Thomas Bowles -- Wednesday July 29, 2009

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Did You Notice? … All the hubbub surrounding Juan Pablo Montoya’s pit road penalty? In the wake of a boring race at Indy, it seems all everyone wants to talk about is a conspiracy theory, with NASCAR putting the No. 42 in the penalty box for speeding simply to “spice up the race.” At the time of the stop, Montoya had led 116 laps and was putting a hurtin’ on the rest of the field, leading by several seconds over second-place Mark Martin with a spot in Victory Lane all but a foregone conclusion. But after going over the five-mph grace period for speeding not once, but twice on pit road, Montoya was slapped with a black flag that took him from first to well outside the top 10.

Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but all accounts point straight to the fact Montoya was speeding. Not only has John Darby come out and given official miles an hour readings of when and where the No. 42 sped on pit road, an inside source has shown me conclusive computer data that compares Montoya’s stop to all the other drivers during that cycle of green flag stops. It turns out that, according to the data I’ve seen, he was faster than anyone else getting on and off pit road by half a second. Of course, I realize as I write this comment that for some of you, telling you that is just not going to make one damn difference. In the wake of the incident, there are plenty of fans on this site alone refusing to believe it; in fact, perhaps the funniest comment I’ve seen was from someone who claims we’ve changed our content in the wake of the Citizens Media program to go pro-NASCAR in the wake of this ruling (couldn’t be further from the truth).

I think there are two problems you can pinpoint in the wake of this whole incident. The first involves NASCAR’s inherent lack of trust with the fans, which Tommy Thompson is going to tackle in his column tomorrow. But what I’m going to talk about is a solution, a means of presenting official data inside the car you can show the fans to prove someone was speeding – because right now, we have absolutely nothing to show people as it’s happening. Just like the infamous “list” of banned substances NASCAR has but no one else can see, the sport has an insidious history of hiding their official data from public consumption, leaving them looking more like the KGB than one of the biggest sports in America. But after much corrosion of trust between the sanctioning body and their fans, perhaps the only way for them to enforce believable penalties is to put a speedometer or some sort of electronic data in the car everyone can see that lights up when the driver goes over the limit.

Both Juan Pablo Montoya and the many fans watching Sunday’s race at Indy were left with no options but to take NASCAR’s word that Montoya sped on pit road…and neither were too happy about it.

The more I think about things, the lack of physical proof when it comes to penalties is the difference that separates NASCAR from other major sports. It’s not like baseball, football, basketball, and hockey are immune from making bad calls; in fact, they probably happen at a rate equal to or greater than what you see in racing. But when the official makes a controversial call in football, the television broadcast is able to show it to us with 10, 15 different camera angles so what’s being judged is made perfectly clear. Maybe we still don’t agree with the call in the end, but we can rest easy and argue at the office the next day knowing that someone just didn’t make an arbitrary one for the hell of it.

Compare that to what you see in racing, where pit road speeding penalties from a fan’s perspective are nothing more than subjective calls in the booth. What is it they say about trust? Actions speak louder than words. If NASCAR could have some way to show the fans the action of speeding itself – like I said above, either something on the speedometer or some other reading to show fans in black and white – it would add that extra layer of proof which would have a whole lot fewer people crying foul and threatening to shut off the TV this Sunday.

Did You Notice? … Teams starting and parking even though they have a primary sponsor on the hood? Tommy Baldwin Racing picked up support from Guy Fieri’s Knuckle Sandwiches this weekend, but that didn’t stop them from parking after 35 laps with a “transmission” problem. Of course, that comes just one race after sponsorship from Palermo’s Pizza at Chicagoland resulted in engine failure around the race’s one-quarter mark.

If these small teams are taking money from companies and it’s still not enough to keep them out on the race track, what does that say for the future of new owners in this sport? These are ugly warning signs that, at some point, will refuse to be ignored in the face of a field that’s shrinking back to just 43 entrants per week (Pocono has just 44 on the list). During the second-biggest race of the year this Sunday, a total of three cars start and parked: the No. 36 of Tommy Baldwin Racing, the No. 66 of PRISM Motorsports, and the No. 87 of NEMCO Motorsports. As far as I can tell, it’s the first time that’s ever happened at a race with the prestige and purse of Indianapolis; combined, they made over $420,000 for less than a full race’s worth of work between them. And if Indy is looked at as start-and-park material … will the Daytona 500 be next?

Did You Notice? … Along those same lines, Matt Kenseth’s multi-company sponsorship deal pending for 2010 is just the latest in a long list of superstars who no longer run with one primary sponsor throughout the course of the season? In fact, if you look up and down the Sprint Cup garage you’ll be hard pressed to find a car with just one company on it for the whole year. There are still a few exceptions – UPS and David Ragan’s No. 6 come to mind – but even the big corporations like AFLAC and DuPont have sold off races to others in this faltering economy so they can still participate in the face of increasing demands to compete.

While Kasey Kahne and Kurt Busch have been fortunate to maintain big-time sponsor contracts, even stars such as Jeff Gordon have been forced to find multiple corporate sponsors to stay on the track.

But when I look at X number of companies sponsoring a superstar, I take a different approach: What if just one company was allowed to partner up? That would free about five or six other potential sponsors to partner up with other owners and programs. Sure, I bet some of them would be turned off supporting anyone other than Carl Edwards or Dale Earnhardt, Jr. But maybe a few could be convinced to back up-and-coming drivers at a lower cost. I don’t know how you could put a sponsorship limit on the cars unless it was self-imposed, as NASCAR teams are in essence private contractors. But for every sponsor that flocks to Jeff Gordon’s car, that’s one less company out there that could be signed by one of the smaller teams.

Can someone say salary cap? Some of the other major sports have one, and it could be a big help in this economy … but the way NASCAR is structured, the chances of it happening are slim to none.

Did You Notice? … That unnoticed amidst the Hendrick dominance is the unprecedented parity behind it? If the regular season ended today, we’d be on track for the most number of teams in the Chase since 2004, and that’s even if you group the Stewart-Haas cars in with Hendrick Motorsports. Here’s the breakdown as we have it right now:

Hendrick – 3 teams
Roush Fenway Racing – 3 teams
Stewart-Haas Racing – 2 teams
Penske Racing – 1 team
Earnhardt Ganassi Racing – 1 team
Joe Gibbs Racing – 1 team
Richard Petty Motorsports – 1 team

It’s possible that number might expand to eight teams, too, with David Reutimann and Michael Waltrip Racing hovering just outside the cutoff in 13th. Seems the parity NASCAR sought with the advent of the CoT, something we thought would never happen, has instead come to fruition to a certain degree (albeit amongst those teams with the money to play with the big boys).

So with so much parity amongst these organizations, why aren’t more people excited about the playoffs? Certainly, Hendrick dominance plays a factor – the team has won 10 of the 20 races so far when you include Tony Stewart’s two wins with Stewart-Haas – but that’s not totally it. The absence of “new” drivers challenging for the playoffs makes a difference, too – Juan Pablo Montoya’s the only one who would make his Chase debut if the season ended today, and with no top 5 finishes this season, he’s hardly considered a true title contender.

No, I think the bigger problem facing the series continues to be the single-file, conservative points racing that we see in order to simply make it into the playoffs. The amount of beating and banging during 160 laps at Indianapolis on Sunday equaled the equivalent of one lap of side-by-side action at O’Reilly Raceway Park across the way. That Nationwide Series event has been looked at as the best of the season to date, with aggressive competition spread all the way around the small .686-mile oval. There were no complaints of aero push and difficulty passing Saturday night; compare that with the following day, when even Joey Logano (who passed more cars than anyone else) said that after just a few laps, his car would be so aerodynamically out of whack he could do nothing more than stay in line and wait for a set of fresh tires.

I think the bottom line is that more parity is always a good thing … now, it’s time to fix the cars themselves as well as the point system so the drivers are actually encouraged to mix it up on the race track.

Did You Notice? … Let me give credit to Melissa, a frequent commenter on the site, which gave me the idea and basic research to finish off this column. There’s been so much written about how the Cup guys once used the Nationwide Series as a “tune up” to make their cars better for Sunday’s race. But in the wake of Kyle Busch falling out of Chase contention, more than ever we’re finding out that running on Saturdays is more of a hindrance and not a help for top-level athletes whose schedules already leave them strained enough.

Just take a look at the current top 12 in the standings. Carl Edwards is the only driver in there running a full-time Nationwide Series schedule, while the rest have run no more than eight of the 20 races run to date. In fact, of the top 10 in points only Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman, and Kasey Kahne have run so far this year, combining for just two, one, four, and one start respectively. Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth, who currently round out the twelve drivers in the Chase, have run eight races apiece behind the wheel of Roush Fenway’s No. 16.

With Kyle Busch now 14th in points, maybe it’s time he took a look at the growing trend here and seriously reconsider running for a title in 2010. As I said yesterday, Cup drivers are paid to drive Cup cars, not moonlight in other series during the week. If someone can handle that, fine … but it’s clear that in Sprint Cup today, the best drivers need to keep their outside schedules to a bare minimum in order to meet all the outside demands of running at race’s highest level.

That would be all and good for the Nationwide Series … if Edwards, Busch, and Joe Gibbs Racing didn’t keep winning all their races to keep them from establishing an identity. So close, and yet so far away …

Contact Tom Bowles

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MïK
07/29/2009 05:38 AM
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One thing I have noticed in NASCAR reporting now days is the constant attention given to butts in the seats and cars in the garage, instead of the actual racing.

I watch the race and read the articles to get an understanding of the action I saw on the track. Whether Baldwin parks it, or section 410-B wasn’t full isn’t on my list of issues concerning NASCAR Cup racing.

the racing on the track has improved immensely compared to 1989, the margin of victory slimmer, the passing more intense.

NASCAR Cup racing is better than ever. Too bad the reporting doesn’t reflect that.

Ken
07/29/2009 06:25 AM
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MiK-What passing? The closer finishes are almost always NASCAR generated with mystery cautions and other dubious calls. I miss 1989. I got tired of professional wrestling many years ago only to have the same things happening with racing.

MJR in Springfield VA
07/29/2009 07:21 AM
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Tom, the problem with showing speed data on all the cars is quite obvious. NA$CAR would then have to be consistent in how it administered the penalties. By showing everyone’s data, NA$CAR can no longer be selective in how and when they issue hand-slaps. And they are selective. Case in point and I quote: “But after going over the five-mph grace period for speeding not once, but twice on pit road, Montoya was slapped with a black flag that took him from first to well outside the top 10” WHAT???? “5 MPH grace period…..not once but twice” ???? Huh? IF you speed you get penalized…PERIOD!!! NA$CAR is not consistent. And yes, it sounds to me like NA$CAR chose when and where to penalize Montoya and therein shows inconsistency. I’m really not a Montoya fan, so that is not where this is coming from. But as NA$CAR continues to manipulate races, trust me they are starting to wear a little thin on me too.

Sal
07/29/2009 07:51 AM
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Isn’t it interesting that the ‘chase’ was put in place to discourage points racing, yet has had the opposite effect? In fact, drivers have to start point racing even earlier in the season now than when the title involved the entire 36 race season. The COT was supposedly designed to eliminate the single file, aero push problems with the old car, and has simply made the problem even more apparent. Unintended consequences. Along with showing the pit road speed numbers live, I wish Nascar would also paint on the track where the scoring loops are that Nascar uses to determine how cars are lined up after a caution. Fans are told it’s according to the last scoring loop, but since we have no way of knowing where they are, again we just have to ‘trust’ Nascar.

Marc
07/29/2009 08:00 AM
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A couple of items, one comment I’ve made before.
a) I would have loved a couple of mystery cautions at the Brickyard. The single file racing was pathetic. A mystery caution could have allowed some other drivers to adjust their cars and give us some actual racing.
b) Start and parkers need to be penalized to the tune of half of their winnings. It’s only nice for Baldwin, Prism, and NEMCO that they get to not even try and take a portion of our ticket money. We didn’t pay you to park your car!!!

Ken
07/29/2009 08:03 AM
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Sorry, Tom! As far as I’m concerned, Montoya’s speeding penalty is a complete farce! Data? Right! John Darby quotes Montoya’s speeds. I believe him, but then again, I also believe in the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and NASCAR rules that are fair and don’t favour The Felon! What B.S.! Darby is as full of it as France and Helton, and the reason fans like me are being driven away! It there had of been any other drivers chasing him but Hendrick drivers, Montoya would not have been penalised and would have won the race. As a result, NASCAR’s favorite team was handed the victory!

As for all the equipment used to time the drivers on pit road, where is this equipment? And who is operating it! Who many devices are there, and have they all been calibrated, and are those calibration certificates readily available? As for those operating the equipment, are they certified to operate the equipment? You and I both know that the answers to all those questions is “NO!”.

Ok Darby! Show me the credibility. Show me the print out of Montoya’s speeds. I want to hear from the person who operated the timing devise and have that person show the printout and sign it as being true. Until then, I will never believe that Montoya’s penalty was legit! Oh wait! I asked Darby to show some credibility! You cannot use the word credability and NASCAR in the same book, let alone the same sentence! (I apologise in advacne for any spelling mistakes! Someone broke into my desk and swiped my dictionary!)

Bill B
07/29/2009 08:05 AM
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MJR,
I thought the same thing when I read that “not once but twice” thing. However, that is not a quote from NASCAR that is just the way Mr. Bowles decided to convey his point. You are inferring (as did I) that NASCAR would not have called the penalty if he’d only been speeding once but that is not necessarily a fact. Don’t confuse an awkwardly worded sentence for proof that NASCAR is subjective. They probably are subjective but that sentence does not prove it.

Ryan
07/29/2009 08:45 AM
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Now Ken , you know that there is other evidence of Montoyas’ infraction . Bowles said a Nascar “ insider “ actually showed him proof of the speeding panalty . So that ends the controversy . As for Nascar actually proving these speeding calls , don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen . We’ll see on screen tv proof of all debris cautions before we see speeding data .
Even though we’ve called for the Frontstretch staff to give us exact punishments for their favorite nemesis , the Start and Park teams , i’ve noticed they manage to side step that issue every week . Come on guys and girls , if the SP teams are ruining the sport as you claim , then lets hear your penalties . And who will inspect each car that drops out to make sure it wasn’t an actual mechanical failure ?
As to CUP drivers in Nationwide , Tom you get more cluless every week . But i guess thats what comes of being a casual Nascar writer . Pay attention , heres how it works . Any race driver who has the proper qualifications and credentials can compete in a Nationwide race . Many CUP drivers enjoy racing just for the sake of racing and would rather run a Nationwide show than not race at all on a given night . CUP drivers will never be discouraged by Nascar from entering Nationwide shows because …. IT HELPS SELL TICKETS . While CUP cars and Nationwide cars are now very different , many of the mechanical parts ( transmissions , rear end gears , etc . ) are the same and the Nationwide races serve as tests . The CUP drivers and teams can also make additional money by racing in the Nationwide races . But again , bottom line , the CUP drivers race in the Nationwide series because they love to race . Until its made illegal , they will continue to do so .

Melissa
07/29/2009 09:56 AM
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Happy to see that I can inspire someone.

Bill B
07/29/2009 10:11 AM
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You don’t need to penalize S&P teams. Just make the rules such that if you don’t make it to the halfway point the amount you receive is prorated based on the laps you run. That will remove the profit motive from the S&P teams. Of course it will also apply to non S&P teams as well even when they are wrecked by no fault of their own.

MJR in Springfield VA
07/29/2009 10:31 AM
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Well Mr. Bowels, which is it, an awkwardly worded sentence on your part or a quote from NA$CAR? Inquiring minds want to know.

Michael
07/29/2009 11:30 AM
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Bill B – I agree with pro-rating the purse as a deterrent to the Start & Park teams. Make all purse money contingent on finishing all laps, otherwise, you get less money based on how many laps you actually complete. Great idea!

Don Mei
07/29/2009 11:35 AM
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Wow!!! A Nascar insider!!! Holy cow…guess that ends THAT discussion eh? Where can I buy one of those? Do I sense some credibility sliding away here?? As i understand the Montoya situation, Nascar adds a 5mph allowance to the stated limit of 55 therefore making the “real world” limit 60mph. So far so good? Now according to Nascar, Montoya exceeded the limit twice…once by .02mph, the second time by .11mph. If my math is correct, that would add 3 to 9 feet per minute to the velocity of the number 42. Maybe Montoya got his half second from his ability to brake better than most. A final thought…if the 88 had come down pit road at 60.02 as opposed to 60, think anyone would have noticed? Pardon the cynicism.

HankZ
07/29/2009 12:47 PM
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Nascraps credibility is shot, thats why there is so much of the fans outrage and reporters reports. I propose a small addition to each drivers dash panel. Consisting of three small lights: one green colored (for pit road speed), one yellow (for the 5mph grace) and the third light being red for speeding. Each one lights up as they are triggered. Transfer that info to our TV screens like they do for gas/brake graphics and we’ll have smaller black helicopters to deal with (info could still be manipulated, I suppose).

@ MJR & Bill B: Nascrap claims Monturda sped twice on the same pit. There is more than one scoring loop on pit lane and he sped on two of those loops.

Managing Editor
07/29/2009 01:22 PM
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Hey Don Mei, Bill B, and others,

Please contact me individually and I’ll be happy to give you more specifics.

As for “not once, but twice” NASCAR claimed Montoya sped in two different zones on pit road, zone 2 and zone 4 (identified by the lines you’ll see every 50 feet or so down pit road). He hit 60.11 and 60.06 miles an hour in those two zones, respectively, causing NASCAR to hand out the black flag for speeding.

Thank everyone for reading and commenting!

KenKars
07/29/2009 01:44 PM
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HankZ – I think the cars already have the lights you suggest on their dash. If you listen to Montoya’s comments after the penalty, he says, “the lights were green” or something to that effect.

DoninAjax
07/29/2009 02:12 PM
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Just a thought? How about asking the “inside source” for a complete list of all the times recorded to show that Montoya was the only one to exceed the speed limit? Any bets on anyone else who broke the barrier?

mikeyfan5599
07/29/2009 02:40 PM
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The solution is simple, the data is transmitted electronically to a computer in NASCAR’s war room, just give the crew chiefs the URL along with Television and the problem is solved. Everyone could watch the speeds as the cars come down pit road. The crew chiefs all have laptops so there will not be a problem there and television could show the cars and their green light, yellow light or red light as the came in, especially on Green Flag Stops.

If you don’t think NASCAR favors one over the other, check out comments made by Bill Elliott, Richard Petty and Tony Stewart, just a few who say NASCAR manipulates the race for a hopefully close finish.

Mike in Floyd Va
07/29/2009 03:30 PM
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Funny how the read-outs for the speeding on pit road are maintained up in the booth, the same booth according to one official statement, that the TV guys are in but yet the TV guys can’t walk over to it and show us on camera the actual read-outs.

Trusting NASCAR is like putting a monkey in a tool shed with a hand grenade and trusting him not to pull the pin.

Douglas
07/29/2009 03:41 PM
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OK! Ok! Nuff said about “speeding” on pit road, as I see it, the REAL PROBLEM is how NA$CRAP monitors the speed, and how the cars try to comply! Already this year they falsely accused and penalized Montoya for speeding, and he indeed was not (me thinks that was Vegas). Anyway, it is THE SYSTEM that is broken, not an individual car or driver! Think about it in these terms: if NA$CRAP is so intent on SAFETY! Then WHY do they force the drivers to watch gauges and speedometers when they should be watching out for other cars and crew members in a VERY BUSY pit lane??

Kinda akin to talking on the cell phone in heavy traffic!

And who cares if they “start & park”?

I sure don’t! They are just making money on their terms! Kinda like Brian Farce is doing on his terms!

FOLKS!! Reapeat after me, “IT IS ALL ABOUT THE MONEY, NOT THE RACING”!

From top to bottom in this very sick sport!

And do not forget the very most important part of the start & park scenario? “THEY AIN’T GONNA GET TV COVERAGE ANYWAY”!!

When has ANY NITWIT NETWORK shown on TV a 11th or worse car on the track UNLESS of course, you have the name JR.!

So, start and park! Save the car for next time! The publicity value has gone for this race!

midasmicah
07/29/2009 04:28 PM
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I believe the data nas$car put out regarding Mentoya’s speeding penalty as much as I believe their drug policy is fair and honest. Whether Mayfield is guilty is a moot point. Your comparison to the KGB is a good one. The pit road speeding penalties seem be real inconsistant. Only 2 cars caught speeding last Sunday and one of Them was a driver who had dominated the race. Just the fact Hendricks cars finished 1st and 2nd raises suspension whether it’s true or not. Parity in nascar. You’ve got a top ten dominated by Hendricks and Hendricks-Stewart {Haas who?} Whether or not any of it’s true, nas$car has a huge credibility problem.. I’m not a fan{atic} anymore. I’m on the fringes close to turning my back completely. The only thing that’s keeping me around, believe it not, is watching racing on the week-end has been a ritual for 20+ years. Even that habit is fading fast. The sad thing is that nas$car has proven time and again that they will not listen to their fans unless it’s some knee-jerk reaction {plenty of those in the last 4 or 5 years. Oh well. I’m finding other things d to do on the week-ends.

Ruckus
07/29/2009 04:57 PM
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MJR – I think the point of that quote is that Montoya was speeding in 2 of the (8 total?) measured segments on pit road during the same green flag pit stop. Not that he was caught speeding on 2 different trips down pit road and only on the second trip did NASCAR decide to penalize him. That is how I recall it being reported during the broadcast as it was happening anyway.

KY1WING
07/29/2009 10:38 PM
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Montoya’s speeding – you can only clear up the problem if you show all the data for all the competitors on all the stops . . . period.

They say he speeded and here’s their data to prove it, but until they show everyone’s speed live and consistently and bust everyone who is over, be it the leader stinking up the show, the points leader, the most popular driver, whoever, then and only then might the Sanctioning Body start to regain some credibility.

Ain’t going to hold my breath though.

Sponsor Hogs – Don’t blame Jeff Gordon and some of the other teams. They are just following NASCAR’s lead, so I can’t fault a team for just doing what management in Daytona Beach is doing.

NASCAR is the worst sponsor hog in the sport and they are now paying the price. When you have sponsors like Coors jump off a car (after a long time I might add) to become the official beverage of the sanctioning body something is bad wrong with the sport.

NASCAR should never allowed it, should have told them if they wanted to stay in the sport get on a hood or a fender.

But no, this way Coors is guaranteed exposure (which isn’t likely if they are on the hood of a car under the new TV coverage) its probably cheaper than funding a team and NASCAR keeps all the bucks. Doesn’t help nary a team, but that doesn’t seem to matter to the Sanctioning Body how many empty fenders and hoods are out there or how many teams have shut down and aren’t even bothering to haul to the track and Start and Park.

Ain’t picking on Coors, there are plenty more “Offical whatevers of NASCAR” that could be team sponsor . . . but it just makes good business sense for everyone except those who need the money, the competitors. But them’s the business rules of NASCAR.

And if its good enough for the goose, then what’s a gander to do?

Start and Parkers – till there’s a rule, those teams can do what they want. Maybe if NASCAR wouldn’t hog sponsorship dollars a few more teams would have the money to compete a few more laps.

Of course with all the money the teams were promised they were going to save with the COT, S & P’s should be a thing of the past real soon.

 

Contact Tom Bowles

Recent articles from Tom Bowles:

Did You Notice? ... A Return To Richmond, Post-Spingate And Quick Hits
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

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.