Thomas Bowles · Wednesday February 6, 2013
Did You Notice?… The battle over start-and-parking is revving up for 2013? The first salvo was fired at the end of January, where Bruton Smith went so far on the Media Tour as to ask reporters in attendance to stop the practice, where cars come to the track, park and collect the prize money for profit.
“Start-and-park should not be a part of what we do,” said the Speedway Motorsports, Inc. owner, whose tracks, he claimed, “donated” tens of millions of dollars to “this cause” in 2012. “Either NASCAR should shorten the race or something in order to stop this, but I think it’s got to be stopped.”
“I hope we look back in a year and (start-and-park) is history. Because it should be history.”
Those comments did not sit well with some owners, in particular Tommy Baldwin, who believe the practice is necessary to survive in NASCAR’s down economy. For Baldwin, it’s been a slow but steady ascent to respectability, from just six runs to the finish in 25 starts during his first year (2009) to nearly winning last year’s Daytona 500 with Dave Blaney. Still, despite that near-miss and a one-year informational partnership with Stewart-Haas Racing, allowing TBR to expand to a two-car program with driver David Reutimann in 2012 they still didn’t pursue a “full” 36-race schedule. In roughly 15 races last year, either the No. 10 or No. 36 was in the garage before the first pit stop as a cost-cutting move to keep the team as competitive as possible in other events.
“Bruton’s got enough money… if he wanted to be part of the solution, he’d help figure out how to get the start-and-parks sponsored,” Baldwin said with frustration when I asked him to respond to Smith’s comments Monday. “We tried meeting with his sponsors that he has at his racetracks involved in a package deal, but they don’t want anything to do with it.”
“They’re too greedy.”
That term could certainly be applied across the board, considering the number of contingency sponsors NASCAR has itself that don’t spend money on individual teams. The list of backers that go directly to Daytona Beach read like a “Who’s Who” of former multimillion dollar logos on the hood: Coors Light, Exide Batteries and UPS to name a few. With so many Cup teams in sponsorship crisis, there’s a point to be made as to why Smith’s SMI, NASCAR’s International Speedway Corporation or even the sport’s marketing arm itself don’t try to steer those companies towards individual teams. Yes, as private entities, there’s no franchise link where the sport can redistribute sponsorship money. But there are also ways of doing things, from holding marketing seminars for all teams where sponsor representatives are available to all (let the best pitch win) to simply saying “no” to another big check. After all, if there are no cars on track, there’s no product for the sport to sell and make money, right? Despite a push to evolve in this area, several important executives behind the scenes in this sport still struggle to find the balance between just the right amount to keep in their bank account and pushing too many teams towards extinction — all over power and an extra trip to the Cayman Islands.
But we digress. Baldwin’s confidence Monday no changes would be made to stop the practice turned into empty words a day later; NASCAR, through a redistribution of purse money announced Tuesday a $4,000 reduction in positions 39 through 43. The change was made, according to some sources as a reaction to the S&P problem although Baldwin, in an interview with ESPN’s David Newton Tuesday claimed he knew it was coming.
“[Bruton’s] like one of those mad politicians who gets pieces of paper handed to him before he speaks,” the car owner said. “NASCAR is taking the right steps… at the end of the day, it makes sense what they’re doing [to reallocate purse money towards the top finishing spots in the field.]”
Is this small-time owner just covering up? Well, yes and no. It’s true a $4,000 reduction, on paper, is likely dropping a penny out of your pocket on the way to the bank. Take Joe Nemechek, who with his self-owned No. 87 ran 31 of 36 races last year (failing to qualify for five) while pocketing $2,505,189 in prize money. With the new rules, his winnings would have fallen to $2,409,189, a reduction of 3.8 percent. That’s about the average cut NASCAR’s backmarkers will see, hardly the “mountain-moving” impact that’ll keep businessmen from skimming off what, in some cases, has been reported as a seven-digit profit by sources. Keep in mind, also the Cup car count each week will be right around that magic number of 43. If everyone who comes to the track knows they’ll qualify, teams can cut corners, use old parts and conserve even more, running just 5-6 laps instead of 50 for example to try and make up that loss.
Start-And-Park’s Biggest Offenders
Since 2009 Season
Current Driver: Joe Nemechek (No. 87)
9 races completed out of 136 starts (6.6%).
Total Money Won: Approx. $10.8 million.
Phil Parsons Racing (formerly Prism Motorsports)
Current Driver: Michael McDowell (No. 98 – Mike Curb is an investor)
8 races completed out of 116 starts (6.9%).
Total Money Won: Approx. $11.4 million.
Tommy Baldwin Racing
Current Drivers: Dave Blaney & J.J. Yeley (Nos. 7 & 36)
84 races completed out of 166 starts (50.6%).
Total Money Won: Approx. $14.3 million.
Last Season Only
Humphrey Smith Racing
2012 Drivers: Mike Bliss & Reed Sorenson
0 races completed out of 32 starts (0%).
Money Won: Approx. $2.36 million.
2012 Driver: Scott Riggs
0 races completed out of 22 starts (0%).
Money Won: Approx. $1.6 million.
NOTE: Team will not run Sprint Cup in 2013.
Front Row Motorsports – Third Car
2012 Driver: Josh Wise
1 race completed out of 30 starts (3.3%).
Money Won: Approx. $2.3 million.
The purse reduction, since it was anticipated leaves Baldwin in perfect position to keep his team intact while using the S&P practice for 12 of 72 races (J.J. Yeley, in the team’s No. 36 will only have enough money to run two-thirds of the races a full distance). Yet while the crew chief is admired for sticking it out, putting the profit back into his team instead of the back pocket he made a statement Monday that seemed a bit misguided.
“In the past,” he said, “These major teams today like Roush and Hendrick started very small, just like TBR. Just the media back then wasn’t as involved as they are today… if NASCAR didn’t give me the ability to start this process slowly, we wouldn’t be in the position we are today.”
Sure, Baldwin is right that today’s biggest teams for Ford and Chevrolet, respectively were little more than one-car operations when they started in the 1980s. But in both cases, those owners never start and parked, running competitively in hopes on-track performance would earn them sponsorship. Hendrick did just that, threatening to fold up shop in early 1984, his first season before Geoffrey Bodine’s win at Martinsville earned them a backer that would keep them in business – the first step to what became a racing empire. The media then was just as involved; the facts themselves were what was different.
It’s true, moving forward the system may not allow Tommy Baldwin those same types of “upset” opportunities as 1984; Roush and Hendrick remain stuck in their positions on top, leaving Baldwin’s teams left to run for scraps even if they earn every break,on one of the circuit’s 1.5-mile ovals. But that doesn’t make those backmarkers transforming a sport into an investment business, turning into the garage early in front of fans who paid their hard-earned money to watch them compete 100% right.
Did You Notice?… That if you were hoping the new car would get the focus off aerodynamics, putting handling back in the drivers’ hands well, think again. Even Tommy Baldwin Racing, an operation we just mentioned was still start-and-parking in 2013 has hired 4-5 engineers for its fledgling two-car program. It’s the only way, Baldwin says to strike out on your own and stay competitive with the multi-car giants hitting the wind tunnel like it’s a McDonald’s Drive Thru. A source, in passing told me recently JTG Daugherty is another team that’s gone from one engineer to nearly a half-dozen, redoing their approach with the new car in hopes harping on the data will get their driver an extra half-a-tenth.
There’s two ways to look at that. One: perhaps these engineers, like the crew chiefs of yesterday, can strike the perfect handling mix early within these one-car programs where someone catches lightning in a bottle and becomes surprisingly competitive. The downside, though, is even the most talented driver remains overwhelmingly dependent on notes collected before they even hit the racetrack. A badly set-up car at an intermediate track is almost impossibly stuck, whether you have Herman “The Turtle” Beam wheeling your car or Jimmie Johnson. With gaining and losing tenths harder to come by, could that leave everyone “locked in” place over the course of a 500-mile run – meaning a 20th-place car at mile 100 is almost guaranteed to run 20th at the checkered flag? Stay tuned.
Did You Notice?… Some quick hits before we take off…
- Like Danica, Hate Danica, make a voodoo doll with Danica on it or wish to God every night she’d go away, the bottom line is the day after the Super Bowl, sales at the popular domain name site GoDaddy.com hit record levels following their controversial commercials featuring Walter the geek, some bizarre website concepts and yes, that GoDaddy girl who happens to race around in circles. She’ll still have to prove it on the racetrack, but when it comes to the boardroom Sunday night was a big win in what’s going to be a make-or-break 2013 for Ms. Patrick.
- Add in another Nationwide title contender with Kyle Larson’s announcement today he’ll run the No. 32 full-time for Turner Motorsports, a joint Nationwide Series venture with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. Between Larson, Elliott Sadler, Austin Dillon, Sam Hornish, Jr., Brian Vickers, Trevor Bayne and Justin Allgaier this season could be the best championship battle the second-tier division has seen in nearly a decade.
- I’ve been told by sources Corey Lajoie’s Nationwide Series schedule will be the following: Dover June 1st, New Hampshire July 13th, and Atlanta Labor Day Weekend. He’ll be driving the No. 8 jointly fielded by Scott Lagasse’s Team SLR and Tommy Baldwin Racing.
- The fate of Max Q Motorsports’ Cup team, which partnered with Tommy Baldwin Racing during the latter part of 2012, remains unknown. Owner Larry Gunselman is no longer associated with TBR, the team said Monday, and former driver J.J. Yeley has been absorbed into Baldwin’s program. Ditto for Xxxtreme Motorsports, whose No. 44 car start-and-parked Phoenix in preparation for what they said was a full 2013 schedule. Owner Johnathan Cohen promised an announcement around the holidays and has disappeared since; crew chief Frankie Kerr, part of that short-term deal, moved on in January.
Sadly, both these organizations are no strangers to their start-ups going sour. Gunselman’s team, in the last four seasons, has been plagued by constant debt and completed only nine of the 52 races they’ve qualified for – including just one lead-lap result (Chris Cook, 27th at Watkins Glen in 2011). Cohen’s track record is even less impressive, failing to put together a quality deal with Macy’s in 2009 and enduring a handful of poor performances by Chase Austin, along with a long list of start-and-parks. The money never materialized for a full-time effort, causing him to pull back until this “major announcement” he was returning to the fold for 2013.
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