Editor’s Note: The following is a special edition of Frontstretch’s Side-By-Side. Occasionally throughout the season, two of your favorite Frontstretch writers will duke it out in a debate concerning one of NASCAR’s biggest stories. Don’t let us be the only ones to speak our minds, though… be sure to read both sides and let us know what you think about the situation in the comment section below!
Today’s Question: In the wake of several big name teams not making the Top 35 (Jamie McMurray – No. 26, Kyle Petty – No. 45) is it fair to allow owner points to be transferred DURING the season so these drivers get themselves a guaranteed spot – while their teammates are assured entry with a past champion’s provisional?
Like It Or Not, A Loophole Is A Loophole
It’s always interesting as a writer to challenge yourself with perspectives you don’t necessarily believe in; and that’s what I’m doing with this side of the argument. From an ethical and a moral standpoint, moving owner points to another team for the sole purpose of guaranteeing a qualifying spot goes against what I feel is the soul of competitive sports. It’s one thing for a driver to utilize a past champion’s provisional because he needs it; it’s another if the use comes solely because there’s a teammate that can’t qualify for a “locked-in” spot on his own merit.
However, when you look at the rules the way they’re presented, it’s hard for me to sit there and call this process inherently unfair – at least, under the rules.
NASCAR – rightly or wrongly – has set a precedent once they granted the Penske Racing team rights to switch their owner points in the offseason. Most everyone knows the story; rookie Sam Hornish Jr. was brought over from the IRL to run a third car under the Penske Racing banner. However, as a new team, it wouldn’t have a qualifying exemption for the first five races; to get around that problem, Penske simply switched the No. 77 team’s owner points (virtually zero) with that of the No. 2 of Kurt Busch. As a past champion, Busch was guaranteed a spot for the first five races, and as an unproven newcomer, Hornish was gifted the freedom of simply taking a lap of qualifying to make the field. It was a clear attempt to utilize a loophole in the rules to assist a rookie… not a champion.
But NASCAR allowed it. And because of that, Pandora’s Box is opened; if they don’t allow these teams to switch points now, they’ll be accused of that flaw we throw at them all the time: “inconsistency.”
It’s those dreaded words which would make it unfair to these other teams, all of whom saw Penske get what they asked for in the offseason. Midseason rule changes lead to controversy, not relief; but not only would the move upset owners, it would upset sponsors as well. If Crown Royal – McMurray’s backer on the No. 26 – wants Roush Fenway Racing to utilize every rule at their disposal to get their car in the field, why shouldn’t they have the right to have their investment supported? After all, if it wasn’t for Crown Royal, there would be no No. 26 car; rightly or wrongly, money makes the world go round in NASCAR these days. And if I’m a sponsor that saw Mobil 1 get preferential treatment – followed up by not getting any of my own – why would I stay with a program that wasn’t doing everything in its power to keep my branding on the radar screen when my car’s not performing?
Frankly, Roush and Petty are doing both their cars and sponsors a disservice by not allowing them every opportunity to succeed. And – rightly or wrongly – the loophole is in place for them to do so. Morality is all well and good; but it does you no favors when it causes your team to lose its sponsor and close up shop.
Both teams would be wise to rethink their options. – Tom Bowles
Top-35 Points Swap Should Not Be Allowed
The NASCAR rulebook is often criticized and greatly abused by the competitors and the fans. However, there is one thing that remains constant about this beleaguered publication – it is written with the intent of providing an even playing field and maintaining the integrity of the sport. However, that integrity is under a full-blown assault this year, taken to task by competitors that are taking the book by the letter of the law – rather than by the intent of the rules.
Before the 2008 season started, Roger Penske swapped the points between two of his cars, assuring Hornish Jr. a starting position in the first five races of this season. Even though Busch was not changing rides, he gave up his points so that Penske could be assured that all three cars would be in the field each week; since Busch is the most recent past champion without a guaranteed spot, he would be a lock to make all five races with that provisional. While it was nice for Penske, such a move goes against what the rule was designed for; NASCAR made it to allow a prior series champ the ability to make races near the end of their career, when both skills and, most likely, their equipment aren’t what they used to be.
However, the best intentions can fall victim to the concept of innovation; there is nothing to prevent someone hijacking the usage of these provisionals for their own personal gain. And while this use seems to be going against the grain of the competitive spirit, NASCAR allowed the swap.
But now that the first five races have past, there are several organizations facing a similar situation to what Penske had at the beginning of the season. Roush Fenway has McMurray sitting on the outside looking in at the Top 35. Penske is on the verge of having Hornish outside of the guaranteed spots again, and Petty Enterprises has Petty outside of the “locked-in” crowd as well. All three of these organizations are rumored to be considering petitioning NASCAR for a point swap to make sure they have the best chance of putting all of their cars in the race.
Is this strategy in the spirit of the rules as they were written? Hell no! The rule was put in place to allow the fans to see their old heroes still make it onto the track when they were no longer as competitive as they had been earlier in their career. Specifically, it was created in 1991 after Richard Petty failed to qualify for the spring race at Richmond in 1989. The rule was actually sparingly used until 1998, when Darrell Waltrip utilized it to make a majority of the races. That caused quite an outcry from the fans for limits to be imposed; after several adjustments, the use of the provisional is now limited to six times per season by a given champion.
Now, the concept of switching owner points is certainly acceptable when drivers leave organizations during the offseason, causing people to switch rides and have their numbers move around. But once the drivers have taken their place in their rightful cars for the year, they should have to stand on their laurels. If that means the driver is outside the Top 35 with the car they chose, well, they should have to qualify on speed. If NASCAR endorses this move, they have opened a can of worms that will make the point system a shambles for the rest of the year. The consequences are unending: if they allow it once, they will have to allow it every time. The end result will be that these drivers who are struggling will continue to drop out of the Top 35, and the teams will just swap the points again and again, ensuring they have starting positions for the rest of the year. This would prevent the teams that are legitimately battling to make it into the Top 35 – without past champions to pull from on their roster – from having a genuine chance to make these races.
As it is, the 35-team exemption rule has already put those teams at a disadvantage, putting a strain on their weekends by giving them the added chore of battling for so few spots in the starting field. By giving away another position through simply juggling the points on the books, the teams on the outside looking in are being cheated even further.
Reducing the concept of the past champion’s provisional to mean that only one less spot will be available each week – not that a champion’s career is being salvaged – doesn’t sound at all like what NASCAR intended.
Hopefully, they’ll put a stop to the madness. – Mike Neff
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