Could NASCAR Borrow from Sportscars to Stop the Start and Parks?
Todd Bodine's three lap adventure brought the state of NASCAR's field fillers sharply into focus over the weekend. A small group of teams and drivers who are doing nothing for NASCAR in the short term, and could even be damaging it in the long term.
The reception from almost every NASCAR fan and NASCAR writer has been negative.
There have been questions as to exactly why the teams exist; that their entire business plan is flawed, that they're doing nothing but line the pockets of the team owners and that they're damaging the credibility of a sport where that commodity is already too often wafer thin.
Unfortunately they're very difficult to stop. NASCAR had floated the idea that the cars of these start and park teams would be scrutinised to see whether their posted reason for retirement was genuine, or simply an excuse so they had to spend no more money that was necessary.
As of this moment, I haven't knowingly seen a start and park team being to "go out there and race" by NASCAR. This either suggests that the teams are telling the truth (personally I doubt this) or NASCAR aren't paying as much attention as they are telling us.
However, NASCAR seem to be ignoring another solution.
The solution would work like this. Before a race NASCAR would establish a percentage of the total race distance that a team would have to complete before being eligible for points and, more importantly, prize money. This percentage would vary from race to race, based on statistics from past races.
The distance may be further for the intermediate tracks, shorter for the short tracks and road courses, where contact is more likely to put cars laps down.
The lack of prize money for the lowest finishers would also help sponsors. Either the race sponsors could afford to scale back the prize money fund, or roll the prize money up to the higher place finishers, providing more funding for the other teams.
However, no system is perfect, and with this solution there are bound to be innocent victims.
The American Le Mans Series, which uses a similar system, but only for points, is littered by unlucky teams. Of the 26 teams that took the green flag at the championship's curtain raiser at Sebring none was intending to complete only a handful of laps before pulling into the pits.
However, at least half those teams, including two-thirds of one of the race classes, left the track with nothing to show for their weekend other than an awful lot of used tyres and spent money.
Similarly with NASCAR, no matter how perfectly the minimum distances for the race are calculated there will always be unlucky drivers who will fall below the percentage by no fault of their own. Take Matt Kenseth's six lap Las Vegas race before his engine decided it didn't want to run anymore.
There is no-one on earth who will suggest Matt and Roush came to Vegas intending to start and park, and no-one can doubt the legitimacy of his retirement, judging by the amount to smoke.
Unfortunately in any war there will be collateral damage, and the war against start and park teams is no different.
Thus these teams will be forced, presuming they want points and money, to race up to the minimum distance, using tyres and fuel, spending money. And with that expenditure in mind they might decide to try and finish as high as possible, to get as much money as possible and maybe try and attack some sponsorships to balance their out-goings.
They might even finish a race!
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