As the 2009 season concludes, we’re faced with an unpleasant reality: start-and-park is not only thriving, but here for the long haul. And as the number of S&P teams expand, not contract, they’re driving teams that are already here and trying to race right out of the sport. That leaves NASCAR entirely at fault for letting its top three touring series have up to a third of their fields parking early at any given race track.
All day at Richmond, through coverage of practice and qualifying, the hype was all over Kevin Harvick‘s No. 33 car and how he finally had the horses to run with Kyle Busch. There was also plenty of press regarding the charity competition within Joe Gibbs Racing between Busch and Denny Hamlin. Meanwhile, Carl Edwards only …
A Nationwide Series regular went to Victory Lane for the first time in 2009. It only took a lucky caution…and a lot of help from Mother Nature…to finally make it happen.
The only car left on the lead lap waiting to pit before green flag pit stops cycled through, Mike Bliss got a lucky break that instantly absolved all the bad luck his Phoenix Racing team has endured this season on Lap 153, when Kevin Hamlin’s contact with the turn 4 wall brought out a yellow that trapped literally the entire field (sans lucky dog Brendan Gaughan) at least one lap behind his No. 1 car. Restarting in traffic behind the 11 cars that started in front of him on the tail end of the lead lap, Bliss methodically worked through traffic and kept out of trouble until rain started falling on the track at Lap 170. Though NASCAR and track crews worked feverishly to prepare the track, the jet dryers reported having lost the track, and Bliss ended up in Victory Lane.
Beneath the surface, all was not as healthy as it seemed. While Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards were there to win the race per usual, the reasons some cars and drivers showed up were far different than what you’d want to believe as a race fan. These teams – nestled within the middle and back of NASCAR’s starting fields – were there not to compete, but to turn a healthy profit, all while padding the sport’s bottom line in the process. For these organizations – which have comprised up to 20% of the Truck Series field in some races – their version of competition is to slowly take a qualifying lap around the racetrack, making the starting lineup in the back of the pack – only to pull the car off the speedway in the first few laps of the race, what’s known in racing circles as the dreaded “start-and-park.” In doing so, they bring an undamaged car in the garage area, make off with tens of thousands of dollars in purse money, and ensure the sport collects its most important lifeline of all… cold, hard cash.