I never would have thought it possible, but finally it seems that you have recognized what an embarrassment the epidemic of start-and-park has become to your sport. The proposed rule change to confiscate the engine of the car that finishes last without being involved in an accident realistically can and should motivate teams at the back of the field to run more laps, discourage parking early, and could very well prove an effective deterrent to carpetbagging owners such as Phil Parsons that have exploited a sport’s integrity for that of their own wallets.
Because, let’s face it… it’s not just the media struggling for something to write about that’s brought this issue to the forefront. The Camping World Truck Series has had as many as 13 trucks parking early in races, while the Nationwide Series has seen the practice turn from a method of survival to a means of profit, courtesy of MSRP Motorsports. And the model that worked so well in the minors didn’t take long to spill right over into where teams can make the big bucks: the Cup Series. Fast forward to the start of 2010, and it’s now pretty much everywhere you look. Millions of dollars in purse money and hundreds of spots in race fields disappeared last year alone thanks to the practice. It’s no longer something to be ignored, because it’s very visible on the racetrack as well as off it.
There are also a ton of race fans out there that have realized the damage this epidemic has done to the sport. They realize that guys trying to race can’t due to being outqualified by those with a decided mechanical advantage, because when the green flag drops, they’re going to run 20 laps, not 200. Believe it or not, race fans out there do care about more than the Jimmie Johnsons and Tony Stewarts dominating the front of the field.
We at Frontstretch, along with many others, have chronicled over the last few seasons the problems caused and the laughable exploits of these start-and-park race teams; and, as one “citizen” journalist, I want to say thank you to you, NASCAR, for finally taking action.
I can only hope that in moving forward, you realize that you will have to make sure your new rules for the last-place finisher have teeth. Officials need to be constantly observing work going on behind the wall, to ensure those racecars are actually being worked on – not playing chicken with each other to run an additional three laps here and there just to avoid last-place finishes while still getting away with not competing. Confiscating engines is not going to be enough… stripping them down to the point of a rebuild is going to be a weekly necessity. To curb this practice once and for all, finishing last needs to absolutely become an unacceptable, fiscally undesirable outcome. From a racing perspective, I can’t think of anything that makes more sense than to make finishing last place, well, harsh.
I can also only hope that you realize the other two of your three national series are still facing this problem, but threatening car confiscation and engine teardowns in Nationwide and Trucks will pose an existential threat financially to legitimate lower-level race teams that might be unlucky enough to finish last. While the solutions that have been put forward do make sense, the problem should be addressed at the top level of the sport first, with the threat of weekly engine tear-downs for last-place finishes either driving teams to race longer… or stop showing up to take advantage of guaranteed purse money. In the Nationwide and Truck ranks, solutions need to be put forward that will not drive a legitimate race team unfortunate enough to finish last to the point of bankruptcy.
Be it prorating purse money, more detailed inspections of cars to confirm mechanical calamities have actually befallen them, whatever it takes, a different system of deterrents to start and parking needs to be devised to ensure that the competition of the minor leagues – series that more than any other need wholesome, integral competition to keep them viable – are something that fans will continue to watch.
Most importantly, like anytime I compliment you as a sanctioning body, I can and do consider your track record of saying the right thing, only to do something the exact opposite. I was at the track at Atlanta last March and saw firsthand the impact start-and-park had when Dave Blaney and Mike Bliss sent full-time racers Scott Riggs and Jeremy Mayfield, and their sponsors, home… the same weekend that you came forward and said you owed it to the race teams out there to make sure that the “supposed” start-and-park teams were actually on the up and up when they came to the track. And while your words managed to have Blaney run around 100 laps instead of his usual 20 that March afternoon, within a matter of weeks it was back to normal, with cars parking after only a handful of laps while NASCAR and its salespeople at NASCAR.com started claiming start-and-parkers had no impact on the competition of the sport; they were, in fact, nothing more than a means of opportunity.
So, know this moving forward: We will not forget your track record of not living up to what you say. Those of us in the racing media that deplore this practice and recognize the threat it poses to the sport will still be investigating, week in and week out, who is doing it and who’s losing out as a result. We will be investigating whether motors are being torn down, per your new rules. We will be keeping an eye on pit and garage stalls, noting when we see teams with two sets of scuff tires in their pits for a full 500 miles. We will be watching you, NASCAR.
You’ve taken one step forward. You deserve credit for it. But you must follow through. And you will follow through.
Because you are being watched.
A dedicated race fan
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