It wasn’t as big of an issue in the past. However, over the past few years, it has become a scandal and a disgrace more than actually trying to benefit the sport only sport that sees an average of 100,000 fans at each event.
The issue, which is up for debate, is start-and-park teams within NASCAR. For those who don’t know, a start-and-park team is when a team doesn’t have enough money to purchase tires for a full race, so they park the car before the one-quarter mark in the event. It may seem stupid, but it has worked on multiple occasions.
Tommy Baldwin Racing is by far the best example of what a start-and-park team can do once they’re given some funding. The team was created from scratch with no sponsors and now is a multi-car organization in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with several major corporate sponsors. More importantly, they’re capable of giving younger drivers an opportunity in the lower levels of NASCAR.
The problem of start-and-parks happened throughout all of NASCAR history. It dissolved for a few years, but always has the tendency to come back with new teams trying to make it in the sport, teams merging with one another and existing teams losing major funding. After roughly the 2008 season, the problem started to come back after going away for three years, if that. The problem has escalated every year since. It isn’t just the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series though. It goes back throughout the NASCAR ranks, all the way down to the NASCAR Weekly Touring Series. It’s sad to say that people with a dream to race can’t even come up with money to run at their local short track to get their name out there, but money is a key in this sport.
As bad as things may be in the highest level of stock-car racing, it’s gotten better this year. After seeing approximately six cars drop out of races each week during the 2012 season, this year it’s down to about three or four. Those teams are obvious ones, Phil Parsons Racing, Humphrey-Smith Racing, Leavine-Family Racing, XXXtreme Motorsports and sometimes there’s Joe Nemechek and Landon Cassill, but not as much anymore. For now, the problem seems to be fixing itself as teams have more resources and have more things to shine light on for sponsors. Plus, these smaller teams that end up getting sponsors and can run well end up getting more television time, giving the companies on their cars a moment or two in the spotlight.
Though the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is doing well when it comes to start-and-parks, the NASCAR Nationwide Series, the second tier in stock car racing, doesn’t appear to be doing just that.
When looking at the NASCAR Nationwide Series entry list for this weekend’s race at the Kentucky Speedway, there are approximately six-nine cars that may be start-and-parking. It’s kind of sad to see because in a desperate attempt to save the Nationwide Series, NASCAR shortened the field from 43 to 40 cars this year. However, even with the adjustment, barely 40 cars show up to the track and some of them do it just to fill up the entry list and make a few bucks along the way.
The art of start-and-parking works like this: a team practices a few laps, qualifies into the race, runs about 10-50 laps and then they send the driver to the garage. It’s probably the most degrading thing to do, but it’s something teams need to do to survive. Drivers also are forced to do it when they just want to keep their name afloat just like Blake Koch. He’s with an under-funded team and gets the chance to race sometimes, but it isn’t that great of an effort because the team isn’t well put together. Look at Jeff Green, he’s with a team that has money for most drivers, but he’s start-and-parking just to keep his name alive in-case a driver is injured and he can replace them, like he did for Eric McClure last year.
Overall, the start-and-park teams are making out like bandits. The Motorsports Group, a Nationwide Series team, fields one full-time car for Reed Sorenson. However, besides that, they hire drivers looking for rides, roughly one-three a week, and park them early, cashing a few extra bucks in the bank. Maybe NASCAR should limit this in the future? It’s up to the fans to decide.
Joseph Wolkin can be followed on Twitter at @JosephNASCAR.