NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice? NASCAR’s Purse Problem, Who Loses the Plate Lottery, Quick Hits

Did You Notice? NASCAR’s convoluted purse system gave more to the third-place finisher than the actual winner? Check out the purse money from Sunday’s Nationwide Series race at Talladega:

1) Brad Keselowski – $40,445
2) Joey Logano – $41,850
3) Kevin Harvick – $43,250

What the…? Yes, I know the logical answer: Brad Keselowski doesn’t run some contingency sponsors, stickers you need to put on your car that’ll up the total you win over a race weekend. But those new to NASCAR or simply curious about the sport aren’t equipped with that extra set of knowledge. Instead, they look at those numbers scratching their head, or simply laugh, shrug their shoulders and crack a redneck joke.

For me, this debacle was the final straw. I think we’re at a point where purse money needs to be addressed, and when it is the same logic should apply that led to the implementation for double-file restarts. Remember the real reason for adding that rule? Yeah, injecting excitement played a part, but NASCAR also needed to find a way to stop confusion from restarts where the leader wasn’t actually the first car in line. Too many fans just didn’t understand the concept of cars on the tail end of the lead lap – just like they don’t get how a third-place finisher can make more money, even if it makes logical sense under the rules.

What should happen is more money skewed towards the top-10 finishing positions, giving them the weight they deserve while leaving little to no cash for spots 39 through 43. Not only would that help those start-and-parks kick the habit, it would give the underdogs their just reward when they actually do run with the Big Boys. Johnny Borneman III was the latest example of that, a small-time competitor who got paid for his Cinderella finish in the form of a pumpkin. Check out these numbers:

5) Johnny Borneman III – $27,775
43) Michael Annett – $24,443

That’s right; for running all the laps and scoring his best career finish, Borneman won only $3,332 more than Michael Annett, the last-place finisher. That’s enough to maybe buy him two extra sets of tires and a Frosty on the way home from Wendy’s (if he’s lucky). And you wonder why there’s so many start-and-parkers… look how little financial incentive there is to run the whole race! When you see those numbers, it’s harder to blame businessmen who look at the balance sheets and see more risk than reward in putting an unsponsored car out there for all 300 miles, only to wreck while trying to gain, oh, an extra $100 in the finishing order.

As much as we hate to admit it, a sport is also a business, and NASCAR needs to fix this ailing business model ASAP. For if your profits can’t improve with better on-track performance… let’s just say pride isn’t a form of payment for your local bill collector.

Did You Notice? How the “lottery” of restrictor-plate races can affect the outcome of the Chase? After listening to Ryan Newman’s claim that races at Daytona and ‘Dega shouldn’t count towards the championship, I thought I’d have a little fun and figure out how much the plate races influenced the Chase last season. So I took a look at the top 16 in points after Richmond last season (the true Chase contenders), and then calculated the “plate race” points they’d accumulated in the Daytona 500, Talladega in the spring and Daytona’s Coke Zero 400 in July.

Here’s what the standings looked like with all 26 races counting:
1) Tony Stewart 3806 (436 plate points)
2) Jeff Gordon 3627 (265 plate points)
3) Jimmie Johnson 3534 (318 plate points)
4) Denny Hamlin 3491 (357 plate points)
5) Kurt Busch 3322 (449 plate points)
6) Mark Martin 3291 (203 plate points)
7) Carl Edwards 3280 (365 plate points)
8) Kasey Kahne 3280 (249 plate points)
9) Ryan Newman 3272 (333 plate points)
10) Juan Pablo Montoya 3251 (367 plate points)
11) Greg Biffle 3249 (363 plate points)
12) Brian Vickers 3203 (339 plate points)
13) Kyle Busch 3195 (274 plate points)
14) Matt Kenseth 3165 (454 plate points)
15) Clint Bowyer 3059 (282 plate points)
16) David Reutimann 3048 (275 plate points)

Now, here’s how the final regular season standings would have looked without Daytona and Talladega:
1) Stewart 3370
2) Gordon 3362
3) Johnson 3216
4) Hamlin 3134
5) Martin 3088 (+1 spot)
6) Kahne 3031 (+2)
7) Newman 2939 (+2)
8) Kyle Busch 2921 (+5)
9) Edwards 2915 (-2)
10) Biffle 2886 (+1)
11) Montoya 2884 (-1)
12) Kurt Busch 2873 (-7)
13) Vickers 2864 (-1)
14) Bowyer 2777 (+1)
15) Reutimann 2773 (+1)
16) Kenseth 2711 (-2)

As you can see, it’s a tale of two brothers with two different sets of lottery tickets. Kyle Busch, who led the most laps at both Daytona races but wrecked in both, would have made the Chase easily without those events counting towards the championship. On the other hand, his brother used the luck of the draw to build a serious cushion in the standings; without it, he’d come just nine points from being knocked out of the Chase by Brian Vickers.

Here’s another thing to notice: how close the standings are from sixth to 13th. Just 67 points separated the final eight drivers, an even closer battle then it was heading to Richmond last year. That race was already an instant classic, but can you imagine how much better it could have been?

Doing these stats begs the question of who stands to lose out from the lottery this year. Two races in, here are some hard-luck candidates who’ll look back at Sunday and Daytona as the ones that got away:

Joey Logano. 20th at Daytona, then 36th at Talladega after pushing so hard, so often, he finally created his own bump-drafting wreck. What a shame if this talented sophomore misses the Chase because of those simple mistakes.

Jeff Gordon. Earned an average finish of 24th in his two plate starts so far (how appropriate). Jimmie Johnson’s spotter, Earl Barban, better be getting one hell of a baby gift for him this summer…

Newman. 34th at Daytona, 35th at Talladega… in fact, Newman hasn’t had a top-15 finish at a plate race since a third at ‘Dega last spring (a race where he didn’t exactly end in one piece, either).

Jeff Burton. Had a car capable of winning both plate races so far. Wound up with an average finish of 20.5 instead. Ouch.

The bottom line is I think Newman is onto something. Sure, bad luck in one race or a small subset of races is always what makes the difference between making and missing the Chase. But having to point the finger at Talladega carries with it that little extra shot of pain you just don’t need.

Did You Notice? Some quick hits before I take off…

  • Gordon and Johnson settled their dispute with mostly text messages last week. Text? Really? Was Facebook and Twitter over capacity at the time? It’s amazing how impersonal we’ve become in the 21st Century. More importantly, considering Hendrick’s teamwork policy, you’d have thought he’d lock the two in a room, throw away the key and say, “Work it out, boys.” Why hasn’t he?
  • Hmm. So Phoenix Racing is putting its car up for sale, and still has its fair share of old Hendrick equipment in its inventory. Mark Martin suddenly wants to own a team, and somebody new in that stable needs a place to drive in 2011. Did I mention Kasey Kahne currently drives a red car, the No. 9? It’s not like you’d have to change that much; I know the No. 09 hasn’t been competitive lately, but that’s a situation worth watching.
  • I wonder, if I had a million dollars, whether I could rent out a Front Row Motorsports ride at Talladega. Looks like the orders are simple; stay out of the draft, keep out of trouble and bring home the best possible finish due to attrition. They should sell the seat like an entry into the World Series of Poker. Could you imagine someone like Randy Moss going 175 in the Mahindra Tractors Chevy just to say, “I raced with the Big Boys?”
  • Something is very, very off at Toyota Racing Development this year. Joe Gibbs Racing aside, Team Red Bull is tripping all over themselves with Vickers’s team, and both Marcos Ambrose and David Reutimann have been duds. Only the improvement of Martin Truex Jr. and Scott Speed has led to faint smiles – and neither one is Chase-worthy in 2010. Can you say, “rebuilding year?”
  • 29 drivers may have led a lap at ‘Dega, but Carl Edwards wasn’t one of them. He still has yet to lead a lap in the Cup Series this season, while his winless streak is up to a shocking 45 starts.
  • Jamie McMurray doesn’t have a top-five finish at an unrestricted track since Homestead in November of 2008 with Roush Fenway Racing. Can we call him the new Michael Waltrip?

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