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5 Points to Ponder: Start & Park Out of Business? Too Little Too Late for Boris Said & ARCA Favorite?

ONE: For Boris Said, This Win Was Too Little, Too Late

It was truly a feel-good story. Journeyman Boris Said, the road-course tutor of over half the Sprint Cup Series field, scored his first Nationwide Series victory on Sunday in a photo finish with accomplished road ringer Max Papis. The win also marked a triumphant return for Scott Zipadelli to the pit box, a huge triumph for a RAB Racing team struggling to stay on the track.

Yet, despite all of that, Said showed next to no emotion at all in victory lane, short of exclaiming, “Finally!” as he first emerged from his car. Taking a seat on the hood of his Ford to speak to ESPN, sitting on the pit wall after his TV interview rather than exchanging high fives with his crew, Said, if nothing else, seemed exasperated after scoring his first NASCAR victory since 1998. It’s hard to blame him, because for as long as he’s been trying to win at the Nationwide and Cup level, Said’s victory came way too late, and in the wrong situation to boot.

After struggling royally in the first few races of 2010, Said lost his ride driving the No. 26 Latitude 43 entry in the Cup ranks. With the loss of that ride, he’s also fallen off the radar screen inside the Cup garage. Couple that with the fact that he won driving for a team with which he decidedly doesn’t have a future (RAB needs sponsor dollars above all else, why else would they take back John Wes Townley?), and Sunday’s win appears insignificant in the grand scheme of his career.

Said undoubtedly knew this the second after he took the checkers on Sunday. Here is a driver that has constantly taken licks – be it Tony Stewart punting him in the Cup race at Watkins Glen earlier this month, or finding himself involved in just about every incident endured in Sonoma’s Cup race one year ago. He is also a driver that has come close so many times in much more opportune situations. He had to be wondering why this first win didn’t come back in the 2005 Cup race at Watkins Glen; if only he had not spun his tires on a late restart, his car had enough to give Stewart a challenge while in the midst of a partial schedule for MB2 Motorsports. Or how about in 2006, where Said came within a few car lengths of knocking off Denny Hamlin for a Nationwide Series win at Mexico City while driving for Ray Evernham’s team.

“The win finally came.” The Said heads should rejoice and celebrate an admirable performance by their driver. But that epithet is all this win will likely ever go down as in the stock car career of one of America’s best road racers.

TWO: Sliced Bread Smashes Loaves

As for a driver on the other side of the career pendulum, Joey Logano enjoyed another strong road-course showing with a sixth-place result in Montreal. But boy, it wasn’t pretty. On lap 12, Logano dove into the grass on a restart, making hard contact with Jacques Villeneuve in a move that resembled Robby Gordon‘s failed attempt to pass Kurt Busch at the Glen in 2007. Problem is, there were over 60 laps to go in the race when he made it. Logano’s bumper wasn’t done; on lap 33, the No. 20 car drastically overdrove a hairpin turn and tagged Papis, sending the No. 33 into a spin. Beyond the most notable two incidents, Logano made more, consistent inappropriate contact over the course of the event.

Again, sixth place in a rough and tumble event like Sunday is an excellent result. But overdriving, impatience, and a generally unpolished performance is a departure from the cool, methodical driver that made such waves as a rookie when he first hit the NASCAR scene in 2008. In fact, when coupled with his recent run-in on the Cup side with Ryan Newman, Logano’s rap sheet is starting to grow substantive.

Is this a product of his environment at JGR, where the youngster’s mentors are Hamlin and Kyle Busch? Possibly. But the Logano case is an interesting one as well in that many of his recent incidents seem a product of pushing cars too hard more than anything else. Personally, as much as I’d love to say that Hamlin and Busch are proving to be a bad influence, part of this recent rash of incidents on Logano’s part is likely stemming from driving equipment that’s the best in the business from the second he joined big-time NASCAR. Now in his third season, Logano’s expected to be winning consistently, given the hype he came in with. And while it’s a tough argument to say that his tenure with JGR has been anything but a success, you can’t help but wonder if learning the sport in cars which most drivers would kill for has rubbed off the wrong way on young Mr. Logano.

THREE: Finally, a Favorite Emerges: Mr. Showtime

Anyone following the ARCA Racing Series this season is being treated to one of the most turbulent, suspenseful points chases seen anywhere in recent memory amongst stock car racing series. With only five races remaining in the 2010 season, the top four in the standings are separated by only 25 points, with the top seven within 155 markers. It’s been this close for much of the season. The only difference is, after Chicagoland this past weekend, a favorite has finally emerged for this crown.

That man is Patrick Sheltra, currently second in the standings but riding a wave of momentum that has seen the veteran ARCA competitor score back-to-back victories at Chicagoland and the week prior on the dirt track of Springfield. Early in the season, Sheltra and his No. 60 team stayed relevant in the points chase through leading the ARCA tour in top-10 finishes; their biggest problem had been taking that final step from consistent to consistently challenging for wins. Now, they’ve done it, and at a perfect time in the season to build momentum.

Looking at the final slate of races, there’s no reason to think that Sheltra’s hot streak is about to stop. The longtime dirt late model competitor proved he can handle a 3,300-pound stock car on the dirt as well at Springfield, and ARCA’s next stop is another dirt race at DuQuoin. From there, it’s off to the short track of Salem, where Sheltra scored his first career win last year; Toledo, where he first took the points lead this season on the back of a top-10 finish; and Kansas, the sister track of Chicagoland, where the No. 60 was dominant. The only question mark is the 1-mile Rockingham oval; but Sheltra finished second there before, and given how new Rockingham is as a track to the ARCA tour, there’s no one team that’s going to enjoy an advantage of experience.

They call Sheltra “Mr. Showtime.” It’s his show to lose.

FOUR: Nationwide Series Purse Cuts to Hurt TV Revenues?

NASCAR’s latest desperate move to stem the bleeding on ISC’s revenue sheets was to announce 20% purse cuts to 2011 Nationwide Series races in an effort to make the events more profitable for track operators. Question is, did they stop to think how this move would impact TV revenues?

I’m referring to the TV revenues that NASCAR has adamantly denied they earn, but most definitely do: the full-field bonus. Because one thing’s for sure… NASCAR doesn’t go out of its way to encourage teams to show up as late entries just because the goodness of their heart seeks to spread purse money to smaller teams.

How do purse cuts and this TV money correlate? Car count. Right now, the only reason the Nationwide Series is able to reach a full field is thanks to start-and-park teams. With the purses already down 10% and more this season, and set to go down another 20% next year, plus the fact that used Nationwide CoTs aren’t going to come cheap, suddenly the profit margin that has allowed these teams to proliferate and prosper starts to disappear.

Let’s look at some math here. One year ago, prior to the first round of purse cuts, MSRP Motorsports was making $7,000 in profit for each race that their two cars qualified, as reported by Frontstretch at Charlotte last season. Take the purse money that team’s No. 90 car earned that race, $14,902, and double it to account for two cars. We’re talking, as a result, costs of $22,804, which earned the team $29,804. Now cut the purses by 10% to reflect 2010, and the take becomes $26,823 and change. Profit is down from $7,000 to $4,019, or 57% of what it was. Now fast forward to 2011, and cut the take by 20%. Suddenly the take is $21,458, and based on that team’s 2009 business practices even start and park is no longer profitable.

Those guys do nothing but start-and-park. Imagine what that change is going to do for teams such as K-Automotive, JD Motorsports and Jay Robinson Racing, who run start-and-park cars to fund already cash-strapped full-time efforts.

I can’t wait to see what NASCAR does to encourage teams to roll out to fill the field next year.

FIVE: Race Length Isn’t an Issue

Dustin Long wrote an interesting article in the Roanoke Times this week detailing how NASCAR’s Cup races continue to be longer affairs than even the average MLB game. With a combination of the CoT, 1.5-mile racetracks and a points culture mentality leaving drivers to all but cruise through the middle portions of races, Long reported on a growing school of thought that NASCAR would do well to shorten their events… and in doing so re-engage younger, info-crazy fans.

My take? There’s no reason to shorten races… if the product is good the whole time. Instead of looking for excuses to essentially turn Cup races into segments, how about addressing the cars, the schedule, and the culture, and making racing something compelling to watch for 500 miles again?

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