The Frontstretch: Did You Notice? ... NASCAR's Super Bowl Busts And S&P, Take II by Thomas Bowles -- Wednesday February 3, 2010

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Did You Notice? ... NASCAR's Super Bowl Busts And S&P, Take II

Thomas Bowles · Wednesday February 3, 2010


Did You Notice? … That with the NFL’s Super Bowl now just one week before the 500, NASCAR’s own Super Bowl runs the risk of being left in the dust?

A conversation with a fellow media member a few weeks back produced this one. He pointed out that on Saturday, three major things are going to happen in NASCAR-land: Daytona 500 qualifying, Danica’s stock car debut in an ARCA race, and the Cup cars hitting the track for the first time in the Bud Shootout. What a great day for the sport to build some momentum, huh?

Here’s the problem with it all: the following day America wakes up to an eight-hour Jersey Shore marathon. (And if that’s not enough, I guess the Super Bowl’s on Sunday, too.) Seriously, not even The Situation himself can get NASCAR in position to score on this one; like Snooki at a law school dance, they’ll be shoved to the corner in the face of a sport that’s a master of persuading the Court of Sports Popularity. When it comes to NASCAR vs. the NFL, it’s football that comes out on top every time – even a win by Danica combined with a side-by-side duel in the Shootout can’t stop it.

At the time, I didn’t fully get how bad it was going to be. But with Tuesday’s Media Day for the Super Bowl ready to take control of the news cycle for the rest of the week (even with NASCAR’s set for Thursday), now I completely understand. Who knew we’d get back to a day where what restaurant Drew Brees likes the best takes precedence over whether Roush Fenway Racing can win a second straight 500?

And what’s so frustrating is the sport desperately needs a week of buildup to help spread this Obama-esque message of “Change” in 2010. Yeah, the Media Tour was four solid days of pushing the fact that everything’s different in NASCAR-land, but how many fans were actually paying attention during that time? Daytona 500 week is when people really start to give the sport a serious look, but by the time the Super Bowl clears the news cycle we’ll already be on the Gatorade Duels this Thursday.

All of that puts even more pressure on this year’s Daytona 500 to be one of the best races in recent history, and for Danica to “magically” decide to run the Nationwide race the day before. As we saw with the rainout debacle of 2009, a season’s worth of momentum may depend on it.

Did You Notice? … Winning the pole at Daytona isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? Continuing the “help from other writers” theme, Jared Turner inspired me last night with his Bud Shootout column, so I decided to take a look at 500 Qualifying Day over the past decade. What I got was a similar list of 500 pole sitters who saved the chill of winter for the nine months after the Great American Race:

Daytona 500 Polesitters: 2000-09
Year Driver Finish Points Finish Wins
2000 Dale Jarrett 1st 2nd 2
2001 Bill Elliott 5th 15th 1
2002 Jimmie Johnson 15th 5th 3
2003 Jeff Green 39th 34th 0
2004 Greg Biffle 12th 20th 1
2005 Dale Jarrett 15th 15th 1
2006 Jeff Burton 32nd 7th 1
2007 David Gilliland 8th 28th 0
2008 Jimmie Johnson 27th 1st 7
2009 Martin Truex, Jr. 11th 23rd 0

As you can see, since 2001 winning the pole isn’t all it’s cracked up to be (unless your name is Jimmie Johnson). Why the discrepancy? It all boils down to the parity provided by plate racing. With restrictor plates on engines, it doesn’t really matter how fast you can go individually, because you’ll never be able to break away from the pack. While handling factors more into a race at Daytona compared to Talladega, you can still easily work your way up from 40th and be leading by, say, about the 50-mile mark.

That leaves a race that used to be about a showcase of speed more of a chess match, where it’s all about being at the right place at the right time. Luck is an important part of racing, don’t get me wrong; it helped Matt Kenseth steal this very same event one year ago. But you wonder if the Super Bowl devolving to little more than a local Craps game takes away from the magic of a 500 win.

Did You Notice? … The one thing lost in the hoopla over switching from a wing to a spoiler is the whispers it won’t improve handling? While official testing won’t be ‘till the end of March, privately insiders have claimed the spoiler’s not as much of a drastic change as it appears.

The days of a “stock car’s” front end being distinguishable only by the decals on it may be coming to a close as early as 2011.

That tells me more adjustments to the CoT are forthcoming, as fans will ultimately respond to better racing – not just appearances. Everyone insists the front end geometry needs to be redesigned, and don’t be surprised to see the splitter’s demise combined with new, custom front ends per manufacturer by the start of 2011 at the latest. Aesthetic fixes are nice to see – but it all won’t matter if the cars are still running around in circles single-file.

Did You Notice? … The new trend for start-and-park Cup teams to make money? Instead of running one team and parking it, they’ll try and run two, claiming in a perfect world if both cars qualify one of them will be allowed to run the whole race.

Prism Motorsports and Tommy Baldwin Racing are two of the teams jumping on board this idea, with TRG Motorsports among those small-time teams not far behind.

In theory, the move makes sense. You’d think most car owners would want to run the distance, and in a world where multi-car teams rule, a second team can provide valuable information to help the primary car succeed over the course of the weekend. I’m just not sure I buy it. With only eight “locked in” spots in the field of 43 – and all these teams likely to be qualifying on speed with both cars – what happens if the “start and park” team knocks out the primary car? Or, what happens if just the primary car makes it? Will the team still park with the excuse they needed the second car to make the field?

In the process, these extra entries, with no intention of competing, will strip starting spots from cars owned by the Wood Brothers and Braun Racing, who bring part-time teams to the track with the full intent of going all the way. So while I applaud these teams for getting creative to stay in the game, I still think bringing any car to the track with the intention of starting and parking hurts the sport in the long run.

And with Prism Motorsports … let’s just say its Nationwide equivalent, MSRP, has no problem parking two cars over the course of the weekend.

They now say one team’s going to run the distance? I’ll believe it when I see it, people.

Contact Tom Bowles

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Mike In NH
02/03/2010 03:55 PM

Time to do something about the start and park teams. For starters, mandate they lease 2 or 3 sets of tires, have a full (and paid more than a token amount) pit crew, and penalize anyone who parks for a flimsy reason early in the race by not allowing them to attempt the following race (or penalize anyone who parks early two races in a row by not allowing them to qualify the next two races).

Richard in N.C.
02/03/2010 06:16 PM

I can accept someone like Joe Nemechek or Tommy Baldwin doing some S&P’ing to be able to afford to race. It’s the parasites like MSRP who are only in it for the money who gall me. Seems to me that part of the prize money, for everyone, should be paid in the form of 3 or 4 sets of tires and an amount equal to say 20% of last place money should be paid to everyone in the form of lap bonuses – for instance at Daytona everyone gets paid $100 per lap run unless the car is knocked out of the race in a wreck.

02/03/2010 08:22 PM

Why hasn’t NASCAR done something about the S&Ps? I believe they are ruining the sport.

It’s really easy to set your car up to qualify for the race. These teams do it all the time. Then they only run 10 laps. And, poor Driver X who planned to run the entire race goes home.

Whose feelings’ are NASCAR protecting? Do the S&Ps add any value to the racing? Do we care if there aren’t 43 cars in the field? It wouldn’t bother me.

02/04/2010 08:26 AM

Yeah , those mean old start and parks are out to bring down the integrity of NASCAR . Or at least they would if NASCAR had any .
But i do think parasites might be a bit strong .
In truth , this campaign of Toms’ against struggling teams is mis-guided in the extreme . There are soooo many other things to worry about in NASCAR . But when you have a deadline for a column looming , well , you gotta fill it with something .

Richard in N.C.
02/04/2010 09:36 PM

I believe the problem with the S&P’ers is knocking out the real racers. In 2009 in the N-wide series Johnny Chapman for MSRP made 28 races and won $495,746, but ran only a total of 194 laps. Morgan Shepherd was only able to make 21 races, in part due to the S&P’ers, ran a total of 3,450 laps, and made only $512,603 – and I’m not sure where he stands on running for 2010. I think the MSRP car’s running an average of only about 7 laps per race qualifies as being a parasite.


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

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