With Daytona’s convoluted qualifying procedures, it’s easy to overlook things while just trying to figure out how the heck they set the field this year. What is with setting the Duels by owner points and then qualifying speed, anyway? Was it actually necessary? But there is one insidious little thing that has been happening in NASCAR that has become such an elephant in the room that it’s impossible to ignore, even with all of the Daytona hype.
One reason that it’s so hard to figure out who’s locked into the race is that these guys are swapping owner points faster than they swap underwear.
Okay, I hope that’s an exaggeration, but it seems that the point swapping is even more rampant than in years past. The trading got a high-profile boost into the spotlight last year when NASCAR allowed Penske Racing to swap out points between Kurt Busch and rookie Sam Hornish, Jr. The move assured both teams a spot on the Daytona starting grid–Hornish got Busch’s top 35 position, while Busch was assured the past champion’s provisional–both Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson, the only more recent title winners, were already locked in on points.
Since that time, point swaps have multiplied like rabbits, and the end result is a convoluted trading bazaar almost as complicated as an elementary school cafeteria at lunch time. But in this game, the stakes are much, much higher than trading peanut butter for bologna or double stuffed Oreos for a Twinkie. For the teams, it’s a guaranteed quarter-million-dollar payout, and that’s just for Daytona. For full time teams, it’s a guarantee of at least last-place money in each of the first five races, and more importantly, a leg up on the top 35 standing in this year’s points.
For NASCAR, it’s fast becoming a matter of integrity.
It’s time for the point swapping to stop. While there is no doubt that NASCAR brought the problem on themselves with what is quite possibly the worst rule to ever wend its way into sanctioned stock-car racing, commonly known as the Top 35 rule, the sanctioning body seems to forget that they have the power to put a stop to the point trading, buying, and gifting. And stopping the practice cold is precisely what NASCAR needs to do.
The way this should work is simple: unless a car earned the points, a car can’t use them.
In other words, point swapping should be illegal. Period.
If a driver were to move on from a team mid-season and win the driver’s title, it’s because his points went along with him. Owner points should stay with the car. After all, if the car performed better after the departure of a driver, the team could conceivably win the owner’s championship. There are more men than just the driver pouring their hearts and souls into every finish, and those teams deserve to reap the reward of what they sowed-not some other guys who didn’t put in the time. Points are not to be taken lightly, and they shouldn’t be passed around like candy.
If a team goes out of business, the points should die with them. Points are something that should be earned, not bought. If the Top 35 rule is about insuring that the fans see the best teams every week, then NASCAR owes it to the fans not to muddy the waters with teams who essentially buy their way into the first five races. Anyone with money can buy points, but they can’t buy the talent, dedication, and sweat that earned them in the first place. Backroom deals and shady trading have no place in the sport.
The Top 35 rule has all but destroyed the integrity of the sport, and what little is left is compromised by allowing teams to use points they did not earn to get into races ahead of teams who didn’t have the money or the negotiating pull to beg, borrow, or steal a bunch of points. If a team without owner points of their own cannot race their way into a race, they don’t deserve to be there–the team with the faster car deserves to be there. At least they earned it.
By instituting a rule that does nothing to improve the sport and in fact alienates many fans, NASCAR made one of the worst decisions in the history of professional sports. It’s worse than the designated hitter, and that’s saying something. But by allowing teams to circumvent the rule, NASCAR is putting their integrity on the line even more. It’s a sport, not a yard sale. Points swapping should be banned-simple as that.