The Frontstretch: The $225,000 Bribe ... Just To Make A NASCAR Race by Thomas Bowles -- Saturday February 13, 2010

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The $225,000 Bribe ... Just To Make A NASCAR Race

Bowles-Eye View · Thomas Bowles · Saturday February 13, 2010

 

As water came pouring down on a freezing Friday at Daytona, Paul Menard was faced with a cold reality all his own. 49th in the qualifying draw, a rainout would mean an automatic DNQ for him under the NASCAR rulebook, shattering dreams of a title in the sport’s second-tier series before they even got off the ground. It was a bad break that would leave the best of men searching for answers.

Turns out they were right inside his wallet all along.

Menard’s No. 98 sneaked into the grid Friday not on speed, but through cold, hard cash, with car owner Jack Roush buying off five teams ahead of him to jump up to the 43rd starting spot. The move was an unprecedented display of money and power in the Nationwide Series, with Roush infusing several underfunded operations with engineering support, extra equipment, or simply a handwritten check to ensure Menard’s presence on the grid.

Paul Menard’s bid to capture a Nationwide Series title remains intact after Jack Roush’s wallet helped turn a DNQ into a 43rd place starting spot for Saturday.

Technically, this convoluted system will go down as a long list of withdrawals, moving the No. 98 up the ladder until it became eligible to start the race. Originally, with NASCAR’s decision to use qualifying draw to fill out the final 10 spots in the field, Menard’s number (49) left him ranked behind four cars who didn’t qualify under other circumstances: the No. 52 of Donnie Neuenberger, the No. 96 of Dennis Setzer, the No. 49 of Mark Green, and the No. 42 of Parker Kligerman. For Menard to make the race, all had to pull out along with the No. 97 of Jeff Fuller, whose 32nd best position in the qualifying draw left him safely in the field in 34th.

Needless to say, the financial maneuvering opened eyes in the Nationwide garage. While no team would confirm the amount given to them by Roush, last place Saturday will win $45,585 – meaning there needed to be serious financial incentive for teams to bend. Add up the numbers, and you’re faced with a number approaching $225,000 in “support” promised in order for Roush to get his way.

Why did so many teams back down? Well, the answer’s as simple as the old adage, “Money talks.” Nationwide driver Brian Keselowski – who owns the No. 96 that withdrew – explains it’s not so easy for the poor to turn away free handouts.

”What they’re willing to offer, I need as much help as I can get to be competitive,” he said of Roush’s incentives. “Be it money, engineering support, whatever, they come around and offer it to people, and that’s their right. I needed some money; with the 10 percent paycut on the races, it’s looking pretty bleak to try to survive.”

Unfortunately for Keselowski, he was among four owners stuck between a rock and a hard place. If he refused the offer from Roush, Menard’s path to the race would be blocked, Fuller would remain in the field, and nothing would change – leaving the No. 96 still on the outside looking in anyway. So, with money tight he took the only avenue available to him: support from one of the sport’s most powerful people.

“I could have been a real prick about it,” he said. “But that’s not going to benefit me either way. I wasn’t going to make a dime. So, why would I do that? In the future, if people don’t like you now, it’s not a good thing. You need all the help you can get, and you don’t want to rub anybody the wrong way if you don’t have to.”

Others were less cheery about the situation, including Means Racing, whose car was fully sponsored by IHOP for the race. “This whole ordeal just screwed us up,” was all a crewman would say on the record, flailing his arms in frustration before returning to pack up their hauler – filling the drawers with car parts while emptying his dreams of watching their car take the green flag.

While many teams remained exasperated over the qualifying rules (“I really cannot believe that they look you in the eyes and tell you that the reason you’re not in this race, after you spent every single dime you possibly could, is because somebody drew a number,” said Keselowski about using the qualifying order to set the 43-car field) Roush’s bank account left nothing to chance. In a world where speed is supposed to separate contenders from pretenders, the deep pockets of the rich have given a whole new meaning to taking the green flag.

“It completely eliminates the legitimacy of what we’re doing,” says Keselowski of what transpired. “I just can’t believe we don’t even get a chance. Everyone should have an [equal] shot to make the race.”

Team 42 Racing (Kligerman), Jay Robinson Racing (Green), and NEMCO Motorsports (Fuller) were unavailable for comment. However, sources claim Fuller, the key to this deal, was designated to run his No. 97 just a few laps in the race, similar to how he parked NEMCO’s second Cup car in the Duels on Thursday in order to earn the team extra money.

Contact Tom Bowles

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P. Mathew
02/13/2010 02:17 AM
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Considering its the top ride buyer in NASCAR with no talent, it makes all the sense in the world. It explains why so many teams randomly withdrew when it was not necessary. Menard is a piece of garbage who had 1 or 2 Top 15 finishes in Cup last year. 99% of drivers with that line would get canned. Lucky his daddy funds his escapades because he ain’t much of a driver. It costs those withrawn a race attempt by doing so which will cause them to be ineligible for the Top 30. The lock-in rule in the top three series is convoluted and ridiculous. If your team attempts every race but cannot come back, then teams behind them that attempted every race should get the points. The selling of points is farcical and shows how bad the rules are. Moreover, setting the field for the biggest race in the Nationwide series based on pulling a pill from a tumbler like BINGO is absolutely abominable. We will never know how many of the withdrawn or cars that missed would have ran the race, but the majority that made it will start-and-park later today so its a power play.

ddsbstrb
02/13/2010 08:01 AM
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Tom, were you this upset when Waltrip did this same thing, back in the spring of 2006, when that #55 NAPA Bill Davis Dodge didn’t make the race at Lowe’s?

Remember how he needed to use the “Rent-A-Ride”-deal and get into the race (just for his sponsor, remember) and threw some cash at D. Cope and his team?

This is NOT the first time this has ever happened in NASCAR. It is just part of the NASCAR “game”. You are getting all worked-up, over something which has been done, before, right or wrong.

Money-talks…….underfunded teams……walk. **** happens!

tom1194
02/13/2010 08:02 AM
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This is exactly the way it is supposed to work. This is why the top 35 rule in sprint is so bogus. If the teams with the most money want to buy their way in, let them do it open and honest, not through Nascar backdoors. This way we won’t have the start and park teams and some of the slower teams causing wrecks and cautions. They will use that money to come back another day and maybe be competitive. Eventually Menard will get tired of crashing on sundays and quit so let him buy his way in while he can.

DJT
02/13/2010 08:16 AM
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The $225,000 number is probably a tad overblown. He only needed to pay the #97 the last place money of $45,000. The rest weren’t going to have money either way, so he was probably able to buy them off for much less than $45,000. Also, no clue why they would do something so ridiculous as having positions outside the top 30 in points set by draw…most of these teams had points from last year…?????

d.shelton
02/13/2010 09:03 AM
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mr.bowles was mistaken when he said “deep pockets give new meaning….“it’s always been that way in nascar.it may not be fair,but unless they change the rules,it’s the way it is.

Rick
02/13/2010 09:35 AM
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The biggest problem, again, is NASCAR and it’s rules system. If someone is willing and able to buy a spot in the field, and someone else is willing to sell it, so what? At least Menard will actually race, which is what is supposed to happen. The start and parks are a black eye on the sport as it is. Guaranteeing starting spots in a “race” is a joke. Maybe lock in the top 10 in points, make the rest work for it. The champions provisional is a rule that also needs to go. Talk about “buying” a spot in the field. You don’t even need money for that one. Why couldn’t they qualify all the cars that weren’t “locked in” this morning? How long could that take? At least everyone that spent time, money, and effort to support the sport, would get a fair chance at making it. Oh wait,I know why. That makes makes too much sense.

Mark
02/13/2010 09:38 AM
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Wow , that was a hard hitting investgative piece if ever there was one . Welcome to auto racing Tom , i’m sure you’ll enjoy it once you learn a little bit about it . The only person surprised by this alleged incident is you .
I couldn’t help but notice that there was very little evidence to back up your claims , but lots of speculation .

paul sparks
02/13/2010 09:54 AM
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While the Menard sitaution is sad to see, I would hope that at least the car owner cut a deal so IHOP could be on the car to represent his sponsor.

The 2nd start and park teams are easy to resolve. Refuse the entry Nascar as part of the “best interets of Nascar”. Don’t even allow them at the track.

Don Mei
02/13/2010 10:33 AM
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And you guys want to complain about Danica not being good for the sport? Give me a break.

leedanielson
02/13/2010 10:38 AM
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The only question I have is why Roush was pushing to get a mediocre at best driver into the race. The only reason Menard is still racing is because of Daddy’s deep pockets. I know this stuff goes on all the time, but how does nas$car expect to develop drivers with shenigans like this. If you look at the lineup for the race, 7 out of the first 8 drivers are cup drivers. That’s one of the reasons why I don’t go out of my way to watch Nationwide races. Why should I watch the same drivers win on both Saturday and Sunday?

Ed T
02/13/2010 12:11 PM
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This has gone on for many, many years and it’s nothing new. Get over it. After the lock-in every spot was really up for grabs and deep pockets will win every time. The cost to Roush number is probably a bit low. If I was a “start-and-park” i’d want last place money plus something to cover some of my expenses so I didn’t completely lose my a**. Last place money probably didn’t cover expenses. Toss in a few nice parts, dyno or shaker post time or an engine lease (100K) from Roush to use at the next big race (Charlotte, Texas) and you got a deal that would make Monty Hall proud. It’s a good deal for Jack and his sponsors who get TV time, and for Menard who gets seat time (you can’t improve if you don’t race!). I see this as a win for all involved, the teams that withdrew don’t have to spend another dime to make last place money (a set of tires is 2K) and that money might come in handy down the road. Money talks is the bottom line, and always has been in NA$CAR.

Steve
02/13/2010 12:16 PM
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I’m surprised there isn’t more complaints about them washing out qualifying entirely and why they are not qualifying this morning. If they would have actually had qualifying, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Did I read correctly that the back end of the field was determined by a draw from a hat? The biggest race of the year and your fate is determined by a draw of the hat? Give me a break!! Another reason why Nationiwide and Cup need to be at different venues or in the case of Daytona, on different weekends.

M.B. Voelker
02/13/2010 02:14 PM
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Let me get this straight, …

Your name is on a LOT of articles decrying start and park as the greatest evil in Nascar.

Now you’re complaining that Roush paid some start and park racers to withdraw so that a car that would run the full race could get in?

And you gripe about Nascar’s lack of consistency?

Ron
02/13/2010 02:30 PM
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I think the “culprit” in this situation is NASCAR and not Jack Roush. Whether a team is in or out of a race being determined by drawing numbers is not a legitimate process. Roush is simply taking advantage of the rules that NASCAR has in place.

ddsbstrb
02/13/2010 04:52 PM
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Wow, Tom, I think some of us might have a little Jack-Roush-egg-on-our-faces!

Whatever that cost Jack Roush to get Paul Menard into the show, today, was more than worth it, wouldn’t you say, with Paul Menard running top 5 for the last part of that race and finishing, finally, in P-6.

I have absolutely no regrets and I would imagine Jack doesn’t either, as we all know Paul is running the full season in Cup-Lite and has no intention of being a start & park, like those who sacrificed their starting positions.

I’ll agree, Paul has a lot to learn in Cup, but, even last season, when he ran, he did fairly well in Cup-Lite and the experience will make him a better Cup driver, hopefully.

Maybe you could retract this story?

Alex Malycke
02/13/2010 06:51 PM
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QUAKER CITY CASTINGS #52 sponsor took the brunt of the hit. They were the ones that forked out the most money to get Donnie to Daytona, and then … he Withdrew.

For M.B. … let’s not confuse the two issues. A car owner buying their way into the field under any circumstances – no matter who they’re paying off – is a can of worms I think could be a negative in the long run. If you’re using money, not speed, to determine the starting lineup, then is it really an athletic competition?

Now, once the field is set under the rules, correctly, I have a problem with any car that would start and park. But money should never make the difference on-track between a car making and missing the race.

I hope that clears up the confusion. Thanks, everyone, for all your great comments!

Justin Brockwell
02/13/2010 09:02 PM
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I totally agree that this whole situation was flawed and screwed up from the get go!!! The 52 team definitely got screwed!!! And I’m a fan of Means racing and I hate the fact that they were put in that position!!! And since when do we set fields at Daytona based off qualifying draw??? Why don’t we just do that for the Daytona 500 and see what reactions people have to that!!! I’m dissappointed with NASCAR :(

Kevin
02/15/2010 01:12 PM
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“If you’re using money, not speed, to determine the starting lineup, then is it really an athletic competition?”

But we didn’t use speed to determine anything in this case. I couldn’t believe nascar did this, and it could have severe long-term consequences. What happens next winter when a new team tries to get a sponsor for the Daytona 300, even if they feel like they have a good car. How are they supposed to get a sponsor if they have to say “if qualifying is rained out, random chance determines whether or not we get in.” All those months of work for nothing.

Hold qualifying the next morning. Only do it for those outside the top-30 if there are time constraints. If you absolutely can’t hold qualifying, base who gets in on practice speeds (I believe some other series do this). Or base the entire field on last year’s points, not just the top-30. Just do something other than leave it up to random chance! I have now lost some of the confidence in nascar I had recently regained.

Chris
02/15/2010 09:06 PM
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Scott Speed did this last year at Infineon. He wiped it during qualifying and bought Nemechek’s ride. For those bashing Menard’s numbers from last year, look at Labonte’s numbers in the 96. The cars were dogs last year. When Labonte started driving the 71 later in the year he did much better. Menard was a Top 25 driver his last year for DEI. He has more talent than he gets credit for. If you want to start pointing fingers about Daddies you don’t have to point very far to find some pretty big targets.

I’ve just got to chime in on the Menard bashers. I used to be one as well. Then, when I really thought about it, I realized that the truth of the matter is I’m just jealous. Tell me if any one of you that bash Menard and his “daddy’s money” keeping him in a Cup (and now NW) ride would turn it down if YOUR last name was Menard and YOU wanted to race? It’s not about the ‘sanctity of the sport’ that we all cry foul on Paul. Think about it and tell me I’m wrong.

 

Contact Tom Bowles

Recent articles from Tom Bowles:

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