Friday, February 26, 2010

Start-and-Park Issue Hits Cup Series

For a while now, the NASCAR Camping World Truck and Nationwide Series have dealt with the issue of start-and-park entries.

A start-and-park is someone who simply qualifies for the race, runs a handful of laps or until the first caution, then slithers off the track with a mysterious engine, transmission, or other random problem. They park the car, collect the prize money for finishing 40th or so, then move on to the next venue.

With economic problems and such, these lower series have faced the realities of start-and-park drivers by simply ignoring them. Yes, these are underfunded teams, but they would likely run the entire race if they could just find a sponsor for the car.

Of course, the first major problem with this philosophy -- besides the fact that these people aren't racing to try to win races -- is that start-and-parks typically have to race their way into the field, meaning they likely bump out drivers and teams who intend to run the entire race.

This issue has slowly crept into the Sprint Cup series, and may have come to a head last weekend, when struggling Prism Motorsports qualified two cars for the Auto Club 500, before pulling both off the racetrack.

One of them -- Dave Blaney's No. 66 -- ended up in inspection.

So why did the sanctioning body confiscate the No. 66 car before the engine had even cooled down?

“Because they can,” said Bill Henderson, crew chief of the No. 66 team and general manager for Prism Motorsports.

Henderson, who has just two cars for the team, was told the car will not be returned until next Saturday — long after qualifying is over. However, the primary car has the basics of racing — swaybar, shocks and springs — that the team simply can’t afford to duplicate on the backup car. Without those necessities, Henderson will not be able to race.

This has led to a more open debate about the start-and-park teams. It's a debate that is long overdue.

After all, it's more about the money than the racing. Prism got over $160,000 for its two-car, 83-lap cameo Sunday. That's more than Matt Kenseth got for a top ten finish (check the above link for more on this).

Sorry, but NASCAR needs to do something. The smaller teams need a way to fund themselves and stay alive, but it shouldn't come at the sake of competition. Sprint Cup races are supposed to be 43 cars, and the overall event is hurt when multiple cars aren't trying to win, or even run all the laps.

If a drug-out inspection process is what gets start-and-park teams to think twice, then NASCAR should look at doing it. Obviously, there is only so much that can be done, because engine failures and other catastrophic things happen, even to the top race teams. It just looks fishy when your engine or transmission crap out every weekend.

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