Want to fire up the NASCAR fan base? Mention the term start-and-park. On any weekend five to eight cars qualify for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race with little intention to run the full race. Another two to three cars with the same plans fail to qualify.
What is the glory in finishing last every week? The payout. Last year the driver who finished 43rd in the seasons second race at Phoenix earned just north of $64,000. Multiple that by a full season and a team could pocket over $2.5 million in prize money.
While some of that money goes back into repairing cars, transportation and operating costs there are numerous people who have a problem with race teams not attempting to run a full race.
One of the most vocal opponent of start-and-park teams is Bruton Smith the head of Speedway Motorsports Inc.
“Start-and-park should not be a part of what we do. I think this is derogatory for our sport,” Smith said in January.
That notion ha not set well with everyone who participates in the practice of starting and parking. Tommy Baldwin who owns his own team took exception to Smith.
“Obviously, Bruton has got enough money that if he wanted to be part of the solution, he’d help figure out how to get the teams that are start-and-parks sponsored,” Baldwin said Monday in a teleconference with reporters. “Those are the things he probably should be worried about.”
Baldwin has built his small team up from one that pulled behind the pit-wall at the first sign of a change of tires to one that saw driver Dave Blaney attempt to finish two-thirds of the Sprint Cup Series races on the track.
“It’s a Catch-22,” Baldwin said. “I understand what Bruton is saying. But if NASCAR didn’t give me the ability to start this process slowly and build, we wouldn’t be in the position where we are today.
Sponsors are not exactly knocking down the door to appear on Baldwin’s car. That is not happening enough for big organizations with multiple cars where many sponsors are choosing to sponsor teams for part of the season rather then the entire schedule.
There are times that Baldwin’s car does not run the full race. But the former crew chief uses the money from those races to finance the ones he does plan to finish.
Baldwin though is not alone. Front Row Motorsports fields three cars at the Cup level. Two cars compete full time, a third car which will be driven by Josh Wise this season will start-and-park in at-least half of the time in 2013. Running a third car gives the team the chance to fund their other two cars for the full race and develop crew members which could be used on their other teams.
Joe Nemechek is another driver who races weekly with no intentions to finish an event. However, Nemechek does run full races in the Nationwide Series and uses some of hi Cup earnings to fund that program which finished 11th in the driver standings last season, up nine spots from 2010 when he began running the series full-time.
There are other teams that do abuse the system. They are there to try and collect quick cash and these start-and-park teams are easily distinguishable. These teams are the ones who find themselves on the bubble weekly during qualifying and usually have a rotating cast of drivers.
Thus far NASCAR has done little to curb the practice of starting-and-parking. It is a tough balancing act; trying to prevent those are there to get rich quick while not penalizing teams that are making a true effort to race full-time.