I think it bears repeating, in the light of the highly-publicized refusal by Jennifer Jo Cobb to have herself labeled as a driver who starts and parks, what this all about and how it’s a part of NASCAR history.
The news she generated at Bristol Motor Speedway fueled a lot of attention, again, about the practice. It’s one in which drivers and teams qualify for a race and then run only a few laps before the car returns to the garage area and is listed as a DNF.
What this does is save money. The car doesn’t bear the strain of anything close to hard racing. The odds of it being involved in a wreck are reduced. It likely isn’t on the track long enough for that to happen.
There isn’t much spent for pre-race preparation. If the car survives the few laps intended, there won’t be much spent for the next race, either.
Many times a pit crew isn’t needed because it will all be over well before a stop is even necessary. You can just imagine how much money is saved.
The purchase of one set of tires, if that, is all that might be required. That, too, certainly helps the bottom line.
There’s more – but you get the idea. Hey, I surely haven’t told you anything new.
But the interesting thing about the start-and-park philosophy is that it can be very profitable.
I’m just one of several who have already figured out that if a team can qualify for most of the races and then call it quits after a few laps, it can make some good bucks.
I added up the least amount of money awarded in each of the 36 races in 2010 – and not all for last place, by the way – and if a start-and-park team was fortunate to qualify for all of them, it would earn nearly $3 million, or even more. Not bad at all.
Stack that against its significantly lower expenses and it’s obvious the result is a healthy profit.
I admit all of this seems simplistic. But it’s obvious there’s something to it, because the start-and-park practice continues, as it will this weekend at Auto Club Speedway.
Most teams adopt the strategy because it’s the only way they can survive.
They simply don’t have the finances required to be competitive, much less win. But at least they have the means to go to races. Their only goal is to qualify. That accomplished, well, it’s all about profit.
I recall that NASCAR told us it was going to take a hard look at the practice. I surmise it didn’t want it to cheapen the sport.
But really, what can it do about it? There’s not much it can. I’m not sure it cares to. Teams have even announced their intention to start and park and NASCAR hasn’t even attempted to “punish” them.
And, after all, does not the practice continue?
I suspect the sanctioning body doesn’t want to take actions that could, ultimately, put teams out of business. In these times it’s hard enough for it to attract enough of them to fill a field. That’s just one man’s opinion, of course.
NASCAR has dealt with similar situations before during its history.
For example there was an era in the 1970s when, during a race, some drivers simply drove around in hopes they could stay out of trouble and finish as high as possible. That way they made as much money as they could.
They had to do it this way. They couldn’t simply start and park because, unlike today, a last-place payout was usually a paltry four figures (or less if you can believe it), not five or certainly not six.
To start and park meant financial ruin.
These drivers were called “strokers.” They competed for years on comparatively miniscule budgets. Many of them made it work. Ask Richard Childress. He did.
NASCAR had a problem. The “strokers” made up the majority of every racing field. If they disappeared altogether, what fan would care to watch a race among, say, 10 or fewer cars?
It evolved that NASCAR created “plan money” for drivers who competed on the full schedule. Every time they showed up and qualified for a race, they got bonus bucks beyond what they won in the race.
It also realigned the rewards throughout the point fund. It made it worthwhile, financially, for all drivers to finish as high as possible in the final standings.
It did more but, in the end, NASCAR created a system that provided the “strokers” the means to make much more money.
They could do this only if they entered, and qualified, for every race to earn bonuses. Afterward, they needed to complete as many laps as possible to earn points – and thereby finish as high as they could in the final standings.
If all of this sounds familiar it should – because it remains in effect to this day.
Within such a system, you would think start and park wouldn’t cut it financially.
However, given the changes in circumstances, apparently it can.
Many believe the practice of start-and-park cuts against the grain of competition. It’s not what racing is supposed to be about. It’s hard to argue with that.
But, at least for now, it exists and there doesn’t seem much NASCAR can do about it.