The Frontstretch: 2013 Season Preview, Part V: Bruton, Start-And-Parks, And Parking The Issue by Thomas Bowles -- Friday February 8, 2013

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As the NFL fades away this week, sports fans across the country turn towards the next big event on the schedule: NASCAR’s Super Bowl. After a three-month hiatus, Daytona beckons as the 38-week, 2013 schedule descends upon us.

But the Great American Race is the Great NASCAR Beginning, the start of a journey that takes us to Las Vegas, Pocono and nearly two dozen American locales in between. There’s plenty of unanswered questions about what’s to come, a year filled with changes from the Gen-6, to new qualifying, to new competitive rookies for the first time in over four years. So let us get you revved up once again; it’s Frontstretch season preview time, all week setting up not only the Sprint Cup season and the excitement of our coverage to come.

2013 SEASON PREVIEW, PART I: IS THE GEN-6 NASCAR’s FIX-ALL
2013 SEASON PREVIEW, PART II: WHAT CUP DRIVER HAS THE MOST TO PROVE?
2013 SEASON PREVIEW, PART III: DOES A CHAMP NEED TO CHANGE
2013 SEASON PREVIEW, PART IV: SOLVING THE CUP SPONSORSHIP CRISIS

Today’s Season Preview Topic: Bruton Smith has said this January start-and-parking is detrimental to the sport and must be stopped. Do you agree with that statement, and if so, jump in Bruton’s shoes and give us an idea to stop it.

Tom Bowles, Editor-In-Chief: I think start-and-parking has been a problem for years, done in part to make a profit and in part because teams feel hopeless. If you’re no better than a 35th-place car, and the difference between that and 34th in the purse won’t get you an extra set of tires then why finish the race?

I think that mentality was partially addressed by NASCAR through redistributing the purse. But cutting money for 39th through 43rd by $4,000 isn’t enough. You need to create substantial incentive for running 30th instead of 35th, 25th instead of 30th… it can’t just be $500 extra between positions. Otherwise, teams who are hopelessly behind the Chase contenders of the world will continue to pack it in early. There’s also a solution going around to pay teams by laps completed. I think that would help… and it would also cause some small-time “owners,” disguised as businessmen to pull out altogether. If that makes a short field, so be it! Parking early does nothing — the money needs to go to the teams actually attempting to build a future through competing.

Start-and-parking has turned blank hoods into business profits for some car owners unwilling to go the distance. But is it a practice that can be stopped?

P. Huston Ladner, Senior Writer: Start-and-parking makes NASCAR look like an organization run out of my grandmother’s basement. It weakens the sense of competition and allows for the distribution of funds to drivers who aren’t actually racing. To think that seven or more cars are showing up at a race to run just a few laps and call it a day is an embarrassment. That the governing body has not attacked this issue, and has ostensibly condoned it, makes them look weak and short-sighted.

Sure, the big names are the ones that most fans come out to see and aren’t concerned with J.J. Yeley running 10 laps and parking. But isn’t allowing this practice to continue counterintuitive to the very concept of competition and racing? If Yeley were finishing out the race, even 15 laps down, at least there’d be the contention that he was competing, that the team was building and learning. But the S&P convention ignores these ideas and dilutes racing.

Phil Allaway, Newsletter Editor: Of course it’s detrimental to the sport, but it has also been a part of it from time to time throughout history. The problem is, what we have today is a completely different form of S&P compared to the last time it was a problem (2004). These teams are making a fair amount of money off of doing what they do. Also, the teams doing it are a lot faster than past ones who attempted the same practice. With sponsorship money, most of them would be at least a little competitive. That wasn’t the case in 2004. I think some of you guys remember Carl Long’s No. 46, the Stan Hover No. 80 that Andy Hillenburg drove, and Kirk Shelmerdine’s No. 72 that got parked on at least one occasion for failing to met minimum speed because they just plain couldn’t get there.

There are some options out there to fix the problem. Cutting purses further for the last few positions has been proposed, as has cutting field size. These are ideas that I’m sure Bruton would get behind. The idea of banning teams from selling tires to others, like in the Nationwide Series would not help at all. That would just lead to S&P teams quitting earlier.

Automatic teardowns for S&P teams has been done before (2010, when an S&P team would often be the “random” car for a trip to the R&D Center). But that ultimately became a hardship on the teams because it hindered their ability to attempt the next race. I’m sure NASCAR won’t do anything too drastic there because there may be a clause in either their TV deals or their sponsorship deal with Sprint (possibly both) requiring 43-car fields.

Unfortunately, there are only two ways that the S&P teams will go away (or be able to run full races and thus, not S&P). One is that the cost to compete would have to decrease significantly. NASCAR is not in the business of subsidizing teams in Sprint Cup (championship winnings are one thing, but outright subsidies are another), so don’t expect them to help in any way. Perhaps Goodyear could charge less for tires (Are they really worth $1,900 a set? I don’t think so. They’re probably laughing all the way to the nearest Fifth Third Bank). Secondly, the economy would have to improve so that sponsors could spend more money in NASCAR.

Welp, that’s not happening anytime soon either — so don’t hold your breath. The bottom line is we’ll have to put up with S&P teams for years to come. This is part of the reason why, in Cup I’m a bit worried about Timmy Hill’s rookie campaign with FAS Lane Racing. His cars are outdated enough that a number of these S&P teams can outqualify him on a weekly basis. That might cost him — and owner Frankie Stoddard — dearly.

Tony Lumbis, Marketing Manager: I don’t think the start-and-parkers are necessarily detrimental, unless they are taking spots from those who intend to run the full race. Even then, the argument can be made that if you are not quick enough to qualify, you don’t belong in the show.
Still, I believe it is in the sport’s best interest to have as close to 43 competitive cars as possible in each event. To dissuade start-and-parkers from entering the show, NASCAR must work with the tracks to lower the purse for the bottom 10 finishing positions. Take a look at some of the last-place winnings from races in 2012, noting that we are not even considering the marquee events:

STP 400 at Kansas: $69,640 (Scott Riggs)
Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan: $71,792 (Trevor Bayne)
Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono: $64,148 (Scott Riggs)

If teams are virtually guaranteed at least $60K, just for showing up, who can blame them from doing just that? NASCAR and the tracks must work together to come up with a purse for the bottom of the field so that it is not worth it for teams to incur the travel and tire expenses to race ten laps.

NOTE: Since this piece was written, NASCAR has announced that each position from 43rd through 39th will receive $4,000 less for each position. This is exactly the concept I had proposed; however, I do not think it goes far enough, when we are talking last place winnings of over $60,000. I would think $10-$20K would be more appropriate. I also still stand by my original concept of decreasing the purse for the bottom 10 spots, perhaps doing so on a sliding scale (i.e. decreasing $4,000 for 33rd, but upwards of $20,000 for 43rd.) This will help to prevent a start-and-park team for simply running a few more laps of the race until four competitors fall out. If the NASCAR brass feel that the situation does need to be addressed, their solution needs more teeth.

Mike Neff, Short Track Editor: Honestly, start-and-parking doesn’t make a hill of beans of difference to the sport. The only time it has a negative impact is when they employ a past champion to make a race, resulting in a team that legitimately wants to compete going home even though they are faster. The teams that start-and-park are not going to compete for wins and having them out on the track, well off the pace, is more of a nuisance than having them park and get out of the way. With that said, the solution to start and parking is simple. Tie the prize money earned during the race to the number of laps completed. Finish less than half of the laps and you only get a small percentage of your prize money. Unfortunately, if you do that, you’re going to have more rolling wrecks hitting the track to make sure they take home their prize money.

Beth Lunkenheimer, Managing Editor: I don’t know if there’s really a single solution that would work to eliminate start-and-parking short of NASCAR outright banning the practice. However, that would be a rule that would be nearly impossible to police fully. So perhaps the solution lies somewhere along the lines of reducing the points and financial payouts for those that don’t complete a minimum of half of the event. Not so fast. In theory, it’s a great idea but you have to consider things like a lap one melee that would cost a championship contender dearly in that department. In the end, it all comes down to the precious sponsorship dollars and the high cost of competition. Unless the sanctioning body can reduce the cost it takes for a team to run competitively, there’s little in the way of fixing what has become a very serious problem in the sport.

Brett Poirier, Senior Writer: Starting-and-parking is a problem, but I do like the steps NASCAR has taken this offseason to combat it — limiting Nationwide fields to 40 cars and creating a larger separation in winnings between each position at the back of the field. Smith’s best suggestion was to barely pay the cars at the back, and give the winner more. I don’t like that solution because it only further separates the haves from the “have nots.” While some of the start-and-park teams are clearly milking the system, others are just doing what they can to get by, so that maybe they can race next week.

Amy Henderson, Managing Editor: There have been start-and-park cars in NASCAR race fields since the dawn of time. They used to be called field fillers and they were there for a few reasons. Often, a team owner would field an extra car or two if its main driver needed only a few points to clinch a title, because when those cars dropped out it meant their guy would finish high enough to get the needed points. Or sometimes, faced with a short field, NASCAR would persuade a car owner or a few to enter one, knowing they weren’t going to run all day, just to meet the numbers. And until NASCAR finds a way to lower the cost of competition and to help sponsors find their way to teams instead of NASCAR themselves, it’s going to continue.

What’s different now is that for a very few teams, starting and parking early has become its own business model. Shame on them, because those owners aren’t racers. But the reality is, those are a very small handful of the teams who pull in early. The others are teams who desperately want to race, and would most certainly run the full distance every week if they had the money to do so. Those teams – Tommy Baldwin Racing, Germain Racing, Leavine Family Racing to name a few – shouldn’t be lumped in with the first group and they should be respected, not reviled. They’re just trying to stay in the game, and they have no hope of finding a sponsor if they don’t show up at the track at all. Instead, as an alternative they show up and do what they can to show that they could compete with their peers if they had the money. They’re real racers trying to what it takes, and anyone who understands the sport at all should understand that and respect the blood, sweat and tears those crews and drivers put in every week only to have to pull in early, as much if not more than the big teams do. I can assure you that those teams don’t put any less effort or passion into it than the ones at Hendrick or Roush Fenway — why do they deserve derision for wanting to race?

S.D. Grady, Senior Editor: I don’t believe Bruton means a word. S&P’ers have been filling the field for NASCAR, to keep the TV contract happy for more years than I care to count. They will not be going anywhere quickly. Seems to me Bruton was singing the same song a couple years ago, with threatened penalties to those parking before their time. Nothing changed. Nothing will. Otherwise, we’ll have 25 cars taking the green flag, and that will kill ratings and attendance faster than 10-20 uncompetitive teams.

Summer Bedgood, Assistant Editor: I don’t think it’s detrimental to the sport, especially in regards to the previous question. If it’s too expensive for a team to run the race, are we saying they simply shouldn’t? You have to start somewhere and if you have neither a big name nor a fortune to start with, starting and parking is the only option. So unless Bruton Smith has a solution to give these small teams more of an opportunity to make something of themselves, I’d suggest he keep his mouth shut.

Even the most successful teams, like Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.‘s former Nationwide Series program have slammed into a wall when it comes to sponsorship in recent years.

Brad Morgan, Senior Writer: Start-and-park teams are a deadly virus spreading throughout all levels of NASCAR competition. The Camping World Truck Series, for instance is riddled with teams that run only a handful of laps before pulling the kill switch early in an effort to cut costs and save equipment, putting on the same disappearing act week after week.

This trend depletes viewership because it puts a dent in the amount of action that occurs during the race, which in turn hurts the sponsors that are tied into the various teams involved in NASCAR.

In order to prevent start-and-parking from occurring, the automobile manufacturers could provide extra, optional factory support to lower budget teams with a limited amount of equipment. With less of their own assets on the line, start-and-parkers would have a reason to be more aggressive with their game plan on race day, improving their chances of landing a noteworthy sponsor.

Vito Pugliese, Senior Editor: It’s only detrimental to the field in that the current contracts call for 43-car fields. It wasn’t that long ago, prior to the Network TV era that 36 cars were the limit on some of the smaller tracks on the schedule. It’s no different than Bruton taking a tax deduction for something that may be considered a stretch; if you can make the field on Friday, you get to race on Sunday. It helps employ a great number of people in our sport, and provides a stepping stone for drivers, crew members, and sponsors alike who otherwise may not have a chance to participate. If it wasn’t for 43-car fields, would Phoenix Racing be around, and would we have heard of some kid from Michigan named Brad Keselowski?

Danny Peters, Senior Writer:
Yes, one hundred percent. The obvious solution is to run less than 43 cars each race, but that doesn’t seem likely to happen anytime soon.

Kevin Rutherford, Nationwide Series Expert: This is a tough question, because 2013 is going to be a deciding year for many opinions regarding start-and-park teams. In recent times, the Top 35 system has kept them from taking spots from bigger, sponsored organizations.This year changes that. With the first 36 spots determined by qualifying speed, teams coming to the track intending to start-and-park can unleash a formidable qualifying setup that puts them solidly into the race without having to worry about beating just their fellow go-or-go-home organizations.

The practice has not been detrimental, as Bruton Smith puts it, to the sport just yet, but it could be. If more of these organizations pop up and start taking spots from funded teams, said teams may lose that funding and be relegated to the same practice. Currently, the sport is teetering on the edge between it being a non-issue and an issue.

That said, many former start-and-park organizations are finding more funding for 2013, including Tommy Baldwin Racing and Swan Racing. Former such teams like Germain Racing and Front Row Motorsports have mostly purged themselves from the practice. As it stands, there may only be two or three teams parking full-time in 2013.

And if it’s just three teams doing it, I wouldn’t call that detrimental.

Rick Lunkenheimer, Contributing Writer: Start-and-park teams are definitely detrimental to the sport and there are ways to encourage teams to run the full distance. Perhaps the simplest solution would be for NASCAR to put a rule in place that prohibits the practice. Sure, it wouldn’t be received with much positive feedback, but it’s the only hands-down way to guarantee it won’t happen. Barring that idea, perhaps a monetary or points bonus—or even a combination of the two—would be the way to go.

Jeff Wolfe, Senior Writer: Starting and parking is a black eye on the sport. The start and parkers should also be identified on the official results, instead of the mystery “vibration,” or whatever, as being listed for the reason out. Start-and-parkers also should declare who they are before the race. That way, as James Finch pointed out, if someone who intends to run the whole race is involved in early wreck or does have an early mechanical problem, they won’t be penalized by getting less purse money.

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Zetona
02/08/2013 09:48 AM
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One problem with giving out prize money by laps completed is that it’s likely to further discourage hard racing in the early going. You’re less likely to race hard early on knowing that if you wreck then as opposed to with 10 laps to go you could earn 50 grand less for the same finishing position. I’d rather have the S&Ps continue than hurt the racing to get rid of them.

Doug in Washington (State)
02/08/2013 01:58 PM
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Summer says:

“If it’s too expensive for a team to run the race, are we saying they simply shouldn’t?”

Yes, that’s what we are saying.

It takes money to build a team. NASCAR isn’t your County Fair bump-to-pass series. If NASCAR wanted to get back to the roots, you’d race showroom cars with roll cages installed and the doors welded shut, and that’s it. Not 6-figure specialized chassis that bear no resemblance to street cars except that they have 4 tires and a steering wheel.

The argument that you cannot attract sponsors unless you’re at the track is bogus in relation to a S&P team. You attract sponsors with top 10 running positions. You don’t run top 10 by shuffling to the back and pulling in 5 laps into a race. That’s just lazy; at least you could run the full tire run. Some of these guys run more laps in practice than they run in the race. How is THAT saving money?

I have a 3-tier plan that would greatly reduce the S&P practice:

1) Pro-rate the prize money based on percentage of laps completed. You would still have the published pay scale, but anyone completing 75% or less of the race would get only the percentage of the prize money equal to the percentage of laps completed. The 75% mark would get some of the rolling wrecks off the track at the end, and it’s not going to hurt the big teams anyway. Prize money is a drop in the barrel to them.

2) Require teams to have a full, accredited pit crew on site and in the pit before the car can take the green flag. Too many of the S&P teams don’t even have pit crews; they have a spotter and a crew chief (chiefing what crew I don’t know).

3) Require all teams to purchase a the standard allotment of tires if they qualify (no use making teams buy them if they fail to qualify). I’d actually rather see the tires be handled like fuel- not a team purchase deal but rolled into the entry fee, but that ain’t gonna happen.

Matty Embry
02/08/2013 07:43 PM
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The way to handle this problem, stop out of control spending. The top 5 teams in the sport each spent over $100 million on their Cup programs. Roush-Fenway topped the list at between $150-200 million spent. Because the charges get tossed down to the smaller teams, the minimum required right now is $25-30 million a season. That’s way too high a number. Even Indycar doesn’t require that much money.

babydufus
02/09/2013 11:52 AM
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i do think the money is out of control, but i also think that this whole start and park hubbub is more like a witch hunt than anything else. nascar is not a franchise business, hell it’s not even public. It’s a privately held corporation that sanctions private contractors. if a team can make money, so be it. let’s call this what it is and how its owner treats it. it is no longer a sport as much as a business. you want to fix something? address theracing, ratings and attendance. eliminating start and parks will have exactly zero impact on any of the things currently hurting nascar racing.

mike
02/10/2013 12:25 PM
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I would rather nascar spend more time on making the racing more exciting than worrying about start and parks.

Find a way to make WINNING a race mean something rather than being happy with a “good points day”.

Gene
02/12/2013 12:35 AM
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The answer is simple. If you park your car after a few laps and Nascar finds that there is nothing wrong with it and is capable to race you get no money.

Steve
02/12/2013 11:58 AM
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If Nascar had a better product to show fans, didn’t take most of the sponsors for themselves and lowered the costs to run a competitive team, it would go a long way towards solving this problem.

Start and parkers are not detrimental. The tv networks don’t even pay any attention to them, so how can it be a black eye to the sport. You can’t police it so let it go, and move on to more important issues that are plaguing Nascar.

 

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