The Frontstretch: Did You Notice? ... NASCAR's Purse Problem, Who Loses The Plate Lottery, Quick Hits by Thomas Bowles -- Wednesday April 28, 2010

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Did You Notice? … NASCAR’s convoluted purse system gave more to the third-place finisher than the actual winner? Check out the purse money from Sunday’s Nationwide Series race at Talladega:

1) Brad Keselowski – $40,445
2) Joey Logano – $41,850
3) Kevin Harvick – $43,250

What the…? Yes, I know the logical answer: Keselowski doesn’t run some contingency sponsors, stickers you need to put on your car that’ll up the total you win over a race weekend. But those new to NASCAR, or simply curious about the sport, aren’t equipped with that extra set of knowledge. Instead, they look at those numbers scratching their head, or simply laugh, shrug their shoulders, and crack a redneck joke.

For me, this debacle was the final straw. I think we’re at a point where purse money needs to be addressed, and when it is the same logic should apply that led to the implementation for double-file restarts. Remember the real reason for adding that rule? Yeah, injecting excitement played a part, but NASCAR also needed to find a way to stop confusion from restarts where the leader wasn’t actually the first car in line. Too many fans just didn’t understand the concept of cars on the tail end of the lead lap – just like they don’t get how a third-place finisher can make more money, even if it makes logical sense under the rules.

What should happen is more money skewed towards the top-10 finishing positions, giving them the weight they deserve while leaving little to no cash for spots 39 through 43. Not only would that help those start-and-parks kick the habit, it would give the underdogs their just reward when they actually do run with the Big Boys. Johnny Borneman III was the latest example of that, a small-time competitor who got paid for his Cinderella finish in the form of a pumpkin. Check out these numbers:

5) Johnny Borneman III$27,775
43) Michael Annett – $24,443

That’s right; for running all the laps and scoring his best career finish, Borneman won only $3,332 more than Annett, the last-place finisher. That’s enough to maybe buy him two extra sets of tires and a Frosty on the way home from Wendy’s (if he’s lucky). And you wonder why there’s so many start-and-parkers … look how little financial incentive there is to run the whole race! When you see those numbers, it’s harder to blame businessmen who look at the balance sheets and see more risk than reward in putting an unsponsored car out there for all 300 miles, only to wreck while trying to gain, oh, an extra 100 bucks in the finishing order.

As much as we hate to admit it, a sport is also a business, and NASCAR needs to fix this ailing business model ASAP. For if your profits can’t improve with better on-track performance… let’s just say pride isn’t a form of payment for your local bill collector.

Kurt and Kyle Busch had different experiences at plate tracks in 2009. For Kurt, his strong performances were what gave him the necessary cushion to make the Chase down the stretch; but in Kyle’s case, his strong runs ended in wrecks not of his making that put him on the outside looking in after Richmond.

Did You Notice? … How the “lottery” of restrictor plate races can affect the outcome of the Chase? After listening to Ryan Newman’s claim that races at Daytona and ‘Dega shouldn’t count towards the championship, I thought I’d have a little fun and figure out how much the plate races influenced the Chase last season. So I took a look at the top 16 in points after Richmond last season (the true Chase contenders), and then calculated the “plate race” points they’d accumulated in the Daytona 500, Talladega in the Spring, and Daytona’s Coke Zero 400 in July.

Here’s what the standings looked like with all 26 races counting:
1) Tony Stewart 3806 (436 plate points)
2) Jeff Gordon 3627 (265 plate points)
3) Jimmie Johnson 3534 (318 plate points)
4) Denny Hamlin 3491 (357 plate points)
5) Kurt Busch 3322 (449 plate points)
6) Mark Martin 3291 (203 plate points)
7) Carl Edwards 3280 (365 plate points)
8) Kasey Kahne 3280 (249 plate points)
9) Ryan Newman 3272 (333 plate points)
10) Juan Pablo Montoya 3251 (367 plate points)
11) Greg Biffle 3249 (363 plate points)
12) Brian Vickers 3203 (339 plate points)
13) Kyle Busch 3195 (274 plate points)
14) Matt Kenseth 3165 (454 plate points)
15) Clint Bowyer 3059 (282 plate points)
16) David Reutimann 3048 (275 plate points)

Now, here’s how the final regular season standings would have looked without Daytona and Talladega:
1) Stewart 3370
2) Gordon 3362
3) Johnson 3216
4) Hamlin 3134
5) Martin 3088 (+1 spot)
6) Kahne 3031 (+2)
7) Newman 2939 (+2)
8) Kyle Busch 2921 (+5)
9) Edwards 2915 (-2)
10) Biffle 2886 (+1)
11) Montoya 2884 (-1)
12) Kurt Busch 2873 (-7)
13) Vickers 2864 (-1)
14) Bowyer 2777 (+1)
15) Reutimann 2773 (+1)
16) Kenseth 2711 (-2)

As you can see, it’s a tale of two brothers with two different sets of lottery tickets. Kyle Busch, who led the most laps at both Daytona races but wrecked in both, would have made the Chase easily without those events counting towards the championship. On the other hand, his brother used the luck of the draw to build a serious cushion in the standings; without it, he’d come just nine points from being knocked out of the Chase by Brian Vickers.

Here’s another thing to notice: how close the standings are from 6th to 13th. Just 67 points separated the final eight drivers, an even closer battle then it was heading to Richmond last year. That race was already an instant classic, but can you imagine how much better it could have been?

Doing these stats begs the question of who stands to lose out from the lottery this year. Two races in, here are some hard-luck candidates who’ll look back at Sunday and Daytona as the ones that got away:

Joey Logano. 20th at Daytona, then 36th at Talladega after pushing so hard, so often, he finally created his own bumpdrafting wreck. What a shame if this talented sophomore misses the Chase because of those simple mistakes.

So much has happened to Jeff Gordon as of late many forget this Daytona 500 wreck that left Gordon 26th and cost him precious points in the first race of the season – points that could come back to haunt him later.

Jeff Gordon. Earned an average finish of 24th in his two plate starts so far (how appropriate). Jimmie Johnson’s spotter, Earl Barban, better be getting one hell of a baby gift for him this summer…

Ryan Newman. 34th at Daytona, 35th at Talladega … in fact, Newman hasn’t had a top-15 finish at a plate race since a third at ‘Dega last Spring (a race where he didn’t exactly end in one piece, either).

Jeff Burton. Had a car capable of winning both plate races so far. Wound up with an average finish of 20.5 instead. Ouch.

The bottom line is I think Newman is onto something. Sure, bad luck in one race or a small subset of races is always what makes the difference between making and missing the Chase. But having to point the finger at Talladega carries with it that little extra shot of pain you just don’t need.

Did You Notice? … Some quick hits before I take off…

- Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson settled their dispute with mostly text messages last week. Text? Really? Was Facebook and Twitter over capacity at the time? It’s amazing how impersonal we’ve become in the 21st Century. More importantly, considering Hendrick’s teamwork policy, you’d have thought he’d lock the two in a room, throw away the key and say, “Work it out, boys.” Why hasn’t he?

- Hmm. So Phoenix Racing is putting its car up for sale, and still has its fair share of old Hendrick equipment in its inventory. Mark Martin suddenly wants to own a team, and somebody new in that stable needs a place to drive in 2011. Did I mention Kasey Kahne currently drives a red car, the No. 9? It’s not like you’d have to change that much; I know the No. 09 hasn’t been competitive lately, but that’s a situation worth watching.

- I wonder if I had a million dollars, whether I could rent out a Front Row Motorsports ride at Talladega. Looks like the orders are simple; stay out of the draft, keep out of trouble, and bring home the best possible finish due to attrition. They should sell the seat like an entry into the World Series of Poker. Could you imagine someone like Randy Moss going 175 in the Mahindra Tractors Chevy just to say, “I raced with the Big Boys!”

Ryan Pemberton and Brian Vickers have hit their biggest slump since being paired together for the start of the 2009 season. With three straight finishes of 29th or worse, they’ve plummeted to 25th in points.

- Something is very, very off at Toyota Racing Development this year. Joe Gibbs Racing aside, Team Red Bull is tripping all over themselves with Brian Vickers’ team, and both Marcos Ambrose and David Reutimann have been duds. Only the improvement of Martin Truex, Jr. and Scott Speed has led to faint smiles – and neither one is Chase-worthy in 2010. Can you say, “rebuilding year?”

- 29 drivers may have led a lap at ‘Dega, but Carl Edwards wasn’t one of them. He still has yet to lead a lap in the Cup Series this season, while his winless streak is up to a shocking 45 starts.

- Jamie McMurray doesn’t have a top-5 finish at an unrestricted track since Homestead in November of 2008 with Roush Fenway Racing. Can we call him the new Michael Waltrip?

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Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
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04/28/2010 06:31 AM

This is taken from, Subtitled NASCAR 101-“Who wins what amount of money from competing in a Cup Series race can seem like a complicated process — with the most compelling question being how a driver that finishes far back can win more money than a driver that finishes in the top 10?
An example would be the 2002 Old Dominion 500 at Martinsville, where Jimmie Johnson won $49,550 for his sixth-place finish, while Jeff Gordon won $90,753 — the fifth-highest payout in the race — for his 36th-place result.
The biggest reason for the money disparity is in the bonus programs that Gordon, as the defending champion and driving for one of the leading winners in the series, Hendrick Motorsports, is eligible for more special award plans than a newer team, such as Johnson’s first-year operation, is.
As convoluted as it seems, the process is actually fairly simple and is regulated by the entry blanks that the NASCAR Competition Department issues in advance of each event.
Each race carries a purse figure, or its “posted awards.”
The purse is comprised of a number of segments, including the racing purse; television awards; car owner special award plans, including the Winner’s Circle Program; and a list of qualifying and special awards that may or may not be paid depending on the eligibility of the driver finishing in the appropriate position.
The racing purse breakdown designates a set amount for positions 1-43 that decreases on a sliding scale. “Television Awards” are also posted for each position, using the same sliding scale from first to 43rd.

Cup team owners may participate in special award plans, such as “Plan 1,” which allows for a set figure for each owner. Car owners participating in Plan 1c win money for their finishing position in relation to the other owners in the plan, again on a decreasing scale.
Those owners participating in the Cup Series Car/Champion Owner Program are also entitled to additional awards, per the regulations of the program.
Among the largest special awards at each race are the Leader Bonus, Time Trial Awards and the Gatorade Front Runner Award.
The Leader Bonus is a modern day version of “Studebaker money.” The money is available to the race winner IF he is also leading the Cup standings after the event. If the winner is not the point leader, the money — which accrues at the rate of $10,000 per event — is not paid.
The Front Runner Award, $10,000, goes to the driver that leads the most laps in the race, regardless of finishing position.
Most of the other manufacturers’ and special award prizes are contingent on using the products and displaying uniform patches or decals.
At certain events special prizes are awarded to the leader of each lap in the race.
These days, about 75 percent of the posted awards are paid after each event, per the official NASCAR race report. The balance of the posted awards is the “Manufacturer’s Point Fund Awards,” a prorated share of nearly $15 million in manufacturer and sponsor funds that are distributed at the end of the season.
While a certain portion of each purse is guaranteed to be paid after the event, some of the cash is what formerly was referred to as Studebaker money, placed in the purse simply for appearance sake.
The term refers to money offered on a purse, say “$10,000 to the winner if he is driving a Studebaker.” The $10,000 would be reflected in the total posted awards, making them more impressive, but the chance of a Studebaker winning would be miniscule.”

So as you can see, the “purse” money isn’t always JUST the purse money.

04/28/2010 03:21 PM

There are no new fans in NASCAR to be confused over any of the rules . You need only look at the granstands and the tv ratings . So maybe the only person who doesn’t understand the pay-outs and the reason for double file re-starts is you . We sure weren’t confused over either one .

I haven’t actually heard Mark Martin say he wants to own his own Cup team for next year , so maybe it’s all pure speculation at this moment .

“Something is very , very off at TRD “ ??? As you said , the Gibbs guys don’t seem to be too far off , and even the MWR cars are showing some signs of brilliance , so i’d say something is very , very off at Red Bull .

04/28/2010 05:18 PM

Tom – Thanks for responding to my post from yesterday, but I don’t think 2 drivers flip flopping in and out of the chase is an argument that plate races drasticly alter the Championship race.

In my opinion, not counting ponits from these races, makes things more contrived – rather than less. It’s ok you aren’t a complete racer – that type of racing is a “just kidding”

The only serious scenario would be to keep the Daytona 500 in place and as is (it’s the Daytona 500). Afterall, if you can’t climb out of a 1 race hole, you do’nt deserve to win the championship.

Then move Talladega to Memorial Day weekend as an “all star” event.

Imagine two heat races winner-take-all at Talladega. Those winners get into the final race featuring all the winners of the past season for an all out 30 lap shooutout for a $1,000,000 purse.

I’d watch that.

Then you could scrap the other two plate races (and shorten the schedule while you’re at it)

04/28/2010 07:42 PM

@ VaBluegrass: I disagree about leaving the Daytona 500 alone. They call the Daytona 500 the “Superbowl” of NASCAR, and I know why. But really, why? It’s not the fastest track. It wouldn’t even be the fastest without the plates, that would be Talladega. It doesn’t pay the most money. It doesn’t determine the champion.
I say start the season at Homestead that track is boring enough to be BANNED! The season should end with the Daytona 500 and actually turn it into the sport’s “Superbowl.” Jimmie’s dominance would take a hit if he had to end the season in Daytona.
Let the other 3 plate races continue as is (except remove Talladega from the chase), the fact is if you are consistent enough everywhere else, finishing dead last at the plate races won’t kill your championship run.

04/28/2010 09:38 PM


Daytona is the “suberbowl” because of the history and prestige of the track.

Homestead has the disadvantage of being the last race on the schedule. Other than the inaugural Chase year drivers mostly coast to the finish and don’t have a reason to push the envelope. They either finish out a mediocre year, run conservative to secure a top points spot. or if they have a legit shot – go for the win.

The action on the track at Homestead is actually not the worst.

And please don’t forget that Jimmie is a former Daytona 500 winner. And he usually has the chase locked up by the last race of the year.

04/29/2010 12:46 PM

Homestead is actually one of the better 1.5-mile tracks, at least in my opinion. The variable banking gives drivers lots of different grooves and it usually puts on a good race.

Keep in mind that Johnson has never won at Homestead, either. Although as I heard a commentator say last year, “he’s never had to win at Homestead.”


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