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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice? The Start & Park Scam, NASCAR is a Team Sport & RCR Comes Up Short

Did You Notice? The latest way in which NASCAR’s “locked-in” qualifying rule has spiraled out of control? For the past year plus, MSRP Motorsports has existed in the Nationwide Series for seemingly one goal – to make money. Each week, the team owned by Phil Parsons’s wife, Marcia, and Randy Humphrey trots out two unsponsored Chevrolets, hoping to simply qualify within the field of 43. It’s their only big hurdle to clear each weekend – not so they can compete, but so they can gain the opportunity to park their cars before they’d need to make an actual pit stop. Doing that pockets them as much cash as possible while avoiding costs like a real pit crew, extra sets of tires, etc. In 63 career starts in the series, the team’s No. 90 and No. 91 cars have been running at the finish a total of zero times. That’s right… zero. I don’t care how many times you tell me just qualifying is enough to court sponsors; a record of 0-for-63 isn’t going to get anyone to sign on the dotted line. That’s the biggest bunch of baloney I’ve ever heard.

So, what’s the reward for this team’s open admission they don’t come to the track to compete? Why, a free starting spot in every race for the next few weeks! With JR Motorsports’s No. 5 car running a limited schedule this year, beginning at California a “locked-in” position in the starting lineup was transferred over to the No. 90 of MSRP. Johnny Chapman promptly used that provisional to make the field – knocking out a guy in Scott Wimmer who would have run the full race – then promptly parked the MSRP car after 10 laps due to “ignition” problems. At stake was a total of $28,808 in prize money, very important to a car owner in Humphrey, who – as we’ve previously documented in past columns – publicly acknowledges his desire to keep from racing if at all possible.

There’s so much wrong with this picture, I don’t even know where to begin. First off, allowing these shenanigans cancels out NASCAR’s initial claim for using the Top-30/35 rule in the first place – that the old provisional system would allow cars to make the field that never intended to run a full race. Secondly, the fact that one of the sport’s most beloved public figures – Truck Series announcer Phil Parsons – is openly involved with an organization mocking the basic principles of competition comes out as nothing short of embarrassing for the sport.

But here’s the best part of it all – the two have started a Cup team, the No. 66 Prism Motorsports Toyota. Yep, that’s the same car which “earned” the champion’s provisional at Daytona through Terry Labonte (despite being slow all during Speedweeks), then turned a total of one lap of practice from the Duels to the race before finishing on the lead lap in 24th. Last weekend, this team was up to its old tricks, pulling an early exit into the Cup garage with an unsponsored car and driver Dave Blaney. The reason for quitting the race after just lap 50? “Fuel pump” issues. But I’m sure Mr. Humphrey had no such concerns pumping gas into his own car after a 42nd-place check for $82,335 landed on his doorstep.

Darrell Waltrip said recently that if a team qualifies for every race in Cup and collects last-place purse money, that’s a tidy $3.4 million sum. With that amount of cash to play with, I can see why greed could trump honor in more than a few cases. There’s just only one problem with this whole picture… isn’t racing supposed to be a sport, not a business? I’m sure 80,000 fans don’t come to the track each weekend to see a car run in circles real slow and park it after just five laps. The tickets are expensive enough – let’s spare them the travesty and find some type of solution so this ridiculous behavior gets stopped.

Did You Notice? This year at California, there were 19 lead changes amongst 11 drivers… a total nearly double the nine lead changes we experienced in the Great American Race?

Do you realize that if you didn’t see both events, you’d actually believe the racing out in California was better than 500 miles of restrictor-plate competition at one of NASCAR’s most legendary tracks? I initially thought this year’s edition of Daytona just wasn’t as bad as people were making it out to be… but the more I distance myself from it, the more I comprehend just what was making people upset after all.

Did You Notice? One of the “Big Four” giants has gotten off to a terrible start following Kevin Harvick‘s win in the Bud Shootout? For years, the weakness of Richard Childress Racing has been intermediate tracks. But Sunday’s sorry performances were well below the norm… even for them. Harvick was the only one of RCR’s four drivers consistently running in the top 15, and his night went up in smoke after his car blew its engine – marking the No. 29 car’s first DNF since Dover in September, 2006.

Two races in, it’s always hard to draw any type of serious conclusions; but in particular, the performances of both Jeff Burton and Casey Mears are particularly troubling for this group. Burton looked like his car had the speed of the bulldozer painted on the side of its No. 31 at California, finishing a disastrous three laps down in 32nd place. Among those cars finishing in front of him? The underfunded No. 34 of John Andretti, whose Front Row Motorsports car didn’t even qualify for but a handful of races during 2008. Add in a hard crash at Daytona to the mix, and Burton finds himself 31st in the season standings – second-lowest of any team that made the Chase last year (Dale Earnhardt Jr. is 35th). His new teammate hasn’t done much better, with Mears 21st in points and without anything substantial yet to justify being signed off the scrap heap of Hendrick Motorsports.

Who’s the lone exception to RCR’s slow start? Clint Bowyer – the man moved unceremoniously to a new fourth team in the stable – is sitting a solid seventh in the standings. Interesting how the man who was seemingly pushed aside is overachieving with a car that didn’t exist 12 months ago.

Did You Notice? That California has become so sick and tiring to talk about, I think we need to forget about this place for a few months and just move on? A few odds ‘n’ ends to clean up, though:

  • Yes, having attended the race in 2008 and 2009, I can tell you there was a slight uptick in attendance during the Cup show. But no sellout is no sellout and very embarrassing for several teams courting sponsors after the Daytona 500. I had one marketing person tell me one of the first questions a prospective backer asked him at the racetrack was, “Where are all the people?” That’s not exactly a question you want to answer when you’re asking someone to give you millions of dollars in cash.
  • Hugh Laurie had such an accent giving the command to start engines, I thought the fake Sean Connery from the old SNL Jeopardy skits of the ‘90s was back. I pose a riddle to you, a conundrum if you will; where were all the other stars besides Laurie, Angie Harmon and Jason Sehorn? Oh, that’s right… the Oscars. Because the sport decided to go up in direct competition with the Awards show. Smart… very smart.

Did You Notice? How much difference a pit crew makes to the success or failure of a race team? With Drew Blickensderfer taking the helm of the No. 17, the “Killer Bees” have been at the top of their game – yet another reason why their talented crew chief is the hottest head wrench on the circuit. At California, the Bees produced a net gain of 10 spots for their driver on pit road, including putting him out front when it counted the most – following the race’s final caution on lap 213.

Now, compare that with Kenseth’s teammate, Greg Biffle, who had perhaps the fastest car but a crew that lost him a total of 13 spots on pit road. Of course, their biggest mistake was nothing but the driver’s fault, with Biffle coming in too hot and sliding over the air hose as he made his final stop. Had the team at least held serve on their final stop, it could have very well been the No. 16 in victory lane instead on Sunday night.

Just goes to show you how this is a team sport more than ever before these days.

About the author

The author of Bowles-Eye View (Mondays) and Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 30 staff members as its majority owner. Based in Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild.

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