By Joe Dunn
There has been a lot of speculation since NASCAR took the No. 66 car of Dave Blaney at Auto Club Speedway for inspection. NASCAR called it just a normal random pick, and car owner Phil Parsons echoed the same rational. But was it really random?
To the best of my recollection this situation has never occurred before. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has had a handful of these teams over the past several years, but last year that situation began to change when small under funded teams like Tommy Baldwin, and Jeremy Mayfield began the season by attempting every race with the intention of finishing the race. That appeared to be a wake up call to NASCAR that if they could attract a few more owners like that, the S & P era could be ending.
In the NASCAR Nationwide and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ the ‘Start & Park’ has been a common occurrence for as far back as I can remember. It has never been a surprise to see a half dozen or more teams loading up their tools and equipment as the green flag was waving. I watched a NNS team at one of the races in 2009 that started the race with a single crew member in the pit stall with a hammer and a wedge wrench, nothing more. That car ran till the first caution and headed for the garage. One NSCS team last year had the car ordered to the garage by NASCAR on the first lap as their pit box was completely empty.
So, was the impounding of the 66 car at ACS the first signal of NASCAR taking action to address the Start & Park teams? A lot of folks believe that it is, but the truth is that NASCAR began to address this before the season began. Something new has been added to the Official NASCAR entry form for it’s races in the NNS. For 2010, there is a statement on the bottom of the entry form that states that IF the car fails to complete 50% of the advertised laps, NASCAR MAY refuse to pay the posted purse for that car. The form does make exceptions for cars that sustain damage in a wreck that make the car unfit to safely return to the track, provided that damage can not be repaired in a reasonable time to return racing. It also allows for engine failure, which NASCAR may take for verification. I limited this to the NNS because that is the only one I have been able to verify, but chances are pretty good that it is included in all three major series.
Sunday, the 09 car of Aric Almirola was the first car to head for the garage after only 23 laps. But instead of heading straight for the hauler, NASCAR officials were there to direct the car to the garage for a teardown inspection. Shortly after, the 55 of Michael McDowell headed for the garage with another engine failure, but strangely returned to the track a few minutes later to complete another 16 laps before retireing from the race. NASCAR said Sunday, that it has instituted a new policy in the Cup Series, whereby the first go out of the race, not due to a wreck will be subject to a full teardown and inspection.
So, now you know the truth about NASCAR’s stance on the ‘Start & Park’ teams. But like anything else NASCAR does, this is all subject to their discretion. One thing that I found particular interesting is that with all the talk on the NASCAR TV shows, all the questions and all the suggestions, why have they not told the fans about this new ’clause’ on the entry form.
UPDATED MARCH 07, 2010
I have confirmed with Mike Forde Manager of Statistical Writing for NASCAR, that this clause is only on the Nationwide Series Entry form and NOT the NASCAR Sprint Cup or the Camping World Truck series. It only applies to the ‘Plan Money’ which is limited to the top 25 in owner’s points. To clarify, there is no option, if they don’t complete 50% of the laps for any reason other than a wreck, they will not be paid the plan money.