How To Fix NASCAR: 5. Field-Filler Frenzy

Charlie TurnerSenior Writer IJanuary 30, 2009

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Not that, you know, we need more of them - it’s just what’s been happening lately.

With the formation of an as-yet-to-be-named team by Larry Gunselman, the car count at Daytona is going to be in the high 50s. It’s going to be higher than in 2007, when we had 49 fully-funded teams competing for st- I mean, 14 fully-funded teams attempting to steal points from 35 other fully-funded teams with guaranteed starting spots. (Cough.)

Either way, new teams involved in the sport is a good thing, right? They provide employment to a lot of guys who have been/may be getting displaced, such as Dave Blaney, Todd Bodine, Geoff Bodine, Joe Nemechek, Jeremy Mayfield, Mike Skinner, Kirk Shelmerdine, Kelly Bires, and Derrike Cope. Don’t forget crew chiefs like Phillippe Lopez and Doug Richert, as well as (assumedly) a lot of those displaced in this offseason’s merger mania. That can only help the sport, right?


Gunselman put it best when he told, “Right now we’re looking at running for purse money while we try to come up with sponsorship dollars. The more sponsor dollars you get, the harder you can run. I tell people all the time, if you don’t have money, you’ve got to race smart, and you can race hard if you do have money.”

These guys - most likely every single one of them - will be utilizing Gunselman’s strategy. (Sorry, Phil Parsons, I don’t believe you for one second when you say that No. 66 is going to run legitimately at Daytona.) They’re field fillers, and they make their living by showing up, qualifying, and running twenty laps before parking the car and lying to NASCAR officials about why the car “broke.”

Not only are they playing a game to try and pocket purse money, they’re potential safety hazards on the track. Remember the 2004 Darlington race where Jeff Gordon and Andy Hillenburg wrecked pretty early on? There were eight field-fillers in the race that day. It’s a wonder that cars citing brake issues at Darlington didn’t cause more problems.

I’ve heard theories that NASCAR promises the TV networks 43-car fields every race. If that’s true, why? What makes 43 cars so special? Champ Car had some awesome races with between 15 and 20. It’s not necessary to set car counts so high that field fillers are required to fulfill the television contract. Someone needs to go in and rewrite those contracts if that’s the case. Quantity doesn’t necessarily mean quality.

Of course, I do have sympathy for these guys. Todd Bodine was a Truck Series champion in 2006. Mayfield made two consecutive Chases in 2004 and 2005 before his team was pulled out from under him. Nemechek and Skinner still have plenty left in the tank, and Bires is an up-and-coming talent. All of them are certainly deserving of rides in some series. It’s a messy situation, especially for those teams whose employees have no other sources of income to fall back on. (Parsons? Eeeeigh. No sympathy, especially when you deny having any part in the team.)

So here’s the best solution I can come up with: Any car that exits the race for good within the first 25% of the scheduled distance has a NASCAR official in their pit stall/garage to verify that the reason for pulling the car from the race is legitimate. The teams that are running legitimately will just regard it as standard protocol, and have no problems. Those who are “racing smart” (cough) lose all accumulated points and get their walking papers from the next race, entry blank filled in or not.

As in, don’t even bother showing up. We’re not going to let you in.

Starting and parking for 36 races may be attractive to some guys. But starting and parking for 18 or less? This doesn’t cater to those “smart” owners at all. They’re not going to run the car beyond its means on one set of tires, as that risks totaling it and coming out with a loss.

I’d say the teams have to forfeit the prize money as well, but those crew members - as many or as few of them the team employs - need to make a living too, like I said.

There’s no perfect solution to the field-filler problem. There likely never will be. But at least by severely limiting the amount of races a field filler can enter, it discourages those owners from trying to form that sort of operation, and only running the races (if any) they can afford to run properly.

It’s a start.