Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice? How to Start & Park, Why Nationwide Series is Dying & Crew Chief Free Agency

Did You Notice? All the talk about Nationwide Series teams looking to pull out of the series with the advent of the Car of Tomorrow? Well, it goes far beyond whether or not car owners will be able to afford the new car; frankly, the purse money for the series isn’t proving a justifiable reward for a struggling owner to stay involved.

For proof of this growing problem, let’s go back to Talladega. Back then, everyone was applauding the effort of Morgan Shepherd, the perpetual start and parker in the Nationwide Series who chose to go the full distance, finishing a respectable 13th. However, Shepherd’s total winnings in that race were $20,775; that’s just $3,000 more than he would have made if he finished 43rd and parked it on the first lap.

Now, while readers of this column know I’m not a big-time Shepherd sympathizer, you see statistics like that and find it hard to blame people when they’re starting and parking to survive. Where’s the incentive to finish? Yes, I know every racer should have that innate desire to compete – but money makes the world go round these days, and if you’re making just as much by not putting your car at risk, heck, I’m surprised all the underdog teams don’t take a look at banking some extra cash.

See also
Voices From the Heartland: Running on Empty? No, Morgan Shepherd Running on Faith!

But there’s more. 13th place in the Cup series the very next day paid Jimmie Johnson $146,461. That’s right, it’s more than seven times what Shepherd paid for his Nationwide Series effort. In about five races, Johnson will make what Shepherd does over the course of an entire season.

So, what gives with the discrepancy? I understand that the Sprint Cup is by far the number one division NASCAR has to offer. But with TV ratings for the Nationwide Series roughly one third of Cup’s, wouldn’t you think purses would be just a little higher? It also helps make total sense of the fact Cup teams can come in and put a whipping on the Nationwide-only car owners.

I mean, when you’ve got an extra $5 million at your disposal from sponsors on the “C-Post” of your Cup car just to be a primary sponsor for a few Nationwide Series races, of course you’ll have the upper hand on teams making a tenth as much – and they’re not able to use that purse money to close the gap.

If two of the series’ most successful owners – Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Todd Braun – are ready to leave the series, then we’ve got ourselves a serious problem; and as far as I’m concerned, the CoT proposal is simply a platform for them to air larger grievances. I’d think NASCAR needs to not only take a look at plans for the CoT, but also the way purse money is distributed – and quickly – otherwise, this is a division which could be heading the way of the dinosaur.

Did You Notice? What it’s like to be a start-and-park driver? Well, I have to give Frontstretch’s own Bryan Davis Keith the credit for this one; for my column, he wrote down some of the “special” radio transmissions between driver and spotter that happen for a team who has no intentions of going the distance. Warning: as a passionate race fan, the following transmissions might disturb you – so if you believe in any sort of competitive spirit, please stop reading now!

The following were some communications surrounding the No. 91 MSRP Motorsports Chevrolet driven by Kenny Hendrick and owned by Randy Humphrey and – gulp! – SPEED Truck Series announcer Phil Parsons. This car has start-and-parked all season, with “permanent” driver Larry Gunselman replaced by Hendrick a few weeks back. Neither one of its cars has yet to finish a race this season… and judging by these radio transmissions, they simply don’t plan to.

With one lap to go before the start of the race: The spotter radios to Kenny, “Just don’t go on the green flag. Let them get a straightaway ahead of you.”

Less than 10 laps in: “We’re going to need some help pushing in the pit cart.”

When Hendrick got within 10 lengths of the field: Spotter radios in again. “Back off, don’t get any closer.”

When Hendrick got within five lengths of Eric McClure a short time later: Spotter sends a nervous alarm. “Don’t get any closer… I don’t trust that guy.”

Lap 16: Hendrick pits to pull a piece of tape off the grill. Traffic is spread all along the blend line… but spotter and crew are worried about other things. “I know the No. 02 is going to park any lap now, but I’m not sure [figuring out if they can gain another position]… yeah, go ahead and bring it in. Good job, Kenny.”

See also
Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2008 CARQUEST 300 at Charlotte

During this time, Hendrick’s remarks on the radio the entire run were very exasperated. Ya think? There’s not a single driver out there who wants to drive a racecar just to park it; but when employed by programs like the one at MSRP, they’re simply left with little or no choice in the matter.

Did You Notice? That while the Nationwide Series struggles under the burden of Cupwhackers all the time, we don’t see the same type of domination by Cup drivers and programs in the Truck Series? On Saturday in Mansfield, it was none other than Truck Series rookie Donny Lia – driving for an unaffiliated team, TRG Motorsports – that took the checkered flag.

What makes the difference? Simple: the truck teams aren’t suffocated by a Sprint Cup invasion, giving most of the series’ regulars a chance to shine. And the trucks handle completely different than Cup cars (considering they are, well, a truck) making it a far different type of division to master. In other words, a Cup team just can’t come in with extra notes and practice and dominate like they do the Nationwide Series… as I’ve been told, those trucks have a much different feel to them that differentiates them from everything else.

Well, at least we have one minor league series we can count on.

Did You Notice? That one of the underreported stories of the past week or so was Doug Richert leaving Regan Smith and DEI? It’s not often a championship crew chief lands on the market (Richert won the 1980 title with Dale Earnhardt Sr.), and now we have not one, but two, as 1992 champ Paul Andrews left Michael Waltrip Racing just a few short weeks ago.

Of course, that’s not counting Jimmy Elledge, a strong head wrench in his own right who was let go by Ganassi early last week. Forget Silly Season 2008 for the drivers – we’ve got an “A” level bunch of crew chiefs ready to work for your team right now! There’s got to be a few mechanical leaders of some struggling teams who should be worried about their jobs right now.

In the case of Richert – who enjoyed some recent success with Greg Biffle before getting the boot at the end of 2006 – it seems he’s really an old-school guy who’s put himself in new-school situations that never seemed to fit his style. Team Red Bull just wasn’t the right fit, and it’s obvious the chemistry never materialized with Smith – who promptly scored a top-20 finish the week after Richert left the organization. Personally, I think Richert would be a great fit for a team like Robby Gordon – if only the two could learn to co-exist. But that’s not happening anytime soon.

See ya after the Monster Mile!

About the author

The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.

You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.

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