Start-and-park teams … it’s a phrase that makes fans and media alike groan. They’re those drivers that typically run less than 50 to 60 laps before dropping out, citing a variety of reasons from fuel pump to vibration and even ignition problems. And sadly it’s a growing phenomenon that continues to plague all three of NASCAR’s touring series. In fact, our own Tom Bowles compared it to a baseball team packing it in before even completing the first inning in a “column a few years ago.”:http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009/writers/tom_bowles/06/11/Start-and-park/?eref=sircrc
Let’s just use the AAA 400 at Dover a few weeks ago as an example. In a field of 43 cars, seven had parked before completing the first 25 percent of the race. They range from Reed Sorenson pulling off the track after just 18 circuits all the way up to Josh Wise who completed 92 laps before calling it a day. And NASCAR has said in the past that it’s not something they really worry about.
“NASCAR doesn’t perceive this to be an issue,” the sanctioning body said back in April, 2009. “It doesn’t impact the quality of competition whatsoever. NASCAR has always been about teams having the opportunity to participate in our sport; some teams might not have the full complement of resources to compete at the same level as others, but it’s all about having an opportunity.”
That’s the point, though–start and park teams _are_ a problem that has continued to grow since that statement nearly three and a half years ago. It’s gotten to the point where I start to guess before the green flag flies over the field which driver will call it quits first. And now there are team owners–James Finch of Phoenix Racing in particular–who are starting to speak up claiming those drivers earn too much money without all of the wear and tear on their equipment.
So what’s the solution? Finch seems to have a pretty good idea as he told “Bob Pockrass of Sporting News.”:http://aol.sportingnews.com/nascar/story/2012-10-05/james-finch-phoenix-racing-kurt-busch-start-and-park-teams-sprint-cup-series
“I’m trying to get NASCAR to move some of the money up that the start-and-park guys are getting so we can race (for it) from 35th to 25th,” he said a couple weeks ago at Talladega Superspeedway. “I’m getting (as little as) $2,000 more to run 500 miles than they do to play. Move it up and if they want it, let them race or it. That’s not racing.”
Finch may be onto something here. Let’s continue with the look at the AAA 400. Sorenson’s completion of just 18 laps was worth $67, 329, and Wise’s 92 circuits got him just a little over three grand more at $70, 530. Compare those figures to that of David Gilliand, who finished 32nd, nine laps down, but ran the whole race–he brought home a paltry $71,360. What’s wrong with that picture?
Consider that a team who arrives at the track intent on running the whole race will need to pay for things like team members, lodging, tires, wear and tear on the motor and possible damage on their equipment, yet they’re still bringing home just four grand more than those who simply run quick enough in practice to make the race and park to preserve their piece to do the same thing the following week.
Looking a little more closely at Finch’s proposal to move more purse money to those teams that run the whole race, we’ll take 25 percent of the funds earned by those that parked early in the AAA 400. The eight drivers who failed to complete the race took home a little over $475,000, and if you take just 25 percent of that to redistribute among those teams that run to completion, it’s another nearly $120,000 that could go into the pockets of owners whose costs are sky high compared to start-and-park organizations.
With all of that said, I do understand that some teams can only survive with at least one start-and-park driver because they can’t afford all of those extra costs. However, it’s not really a viable long-term business model, and it does a disservice to fans when nearly 20 percent of a field is done long before the halfway point. NASCAR would be wise to take a closer look at why teams choose to go the route of the start-and-park week after week rather than running to completion and find a solution that would reduce–or even better, eliminate–that choice.