Points-Swapping Plus Past Champion’s Provisionals give Headaches to NASCAR Fans

By Brody Jones

In a sport where everything, in theory, should be relatively simple, there are many things that go on behind-the-scenes in the off-season that could induce a headache that not even Excedrin could cure. With the convoluted practice of points-swapping and the past champion’s provisional, this often leaves NASCAR fans more and more befuddled than Inspector Clouseau in the famous “Pink Panther” cartoons. At times, the chicanery and off-season shenanigans can be more difficult than earning a kinesiology degree (that’s the science of human movement for those that are uninitiated with the word) But this practice continues uninhibited every year without interruption.
Case in point, this year’s point-swapping pandemic has been nothing short of completely and utterly ridiculous. One case of absolute insanity was Roger Penske giving the #77 points to Steven Wallace, whose lone qualification for the Sprint Cup Series is his last name, just for the Daytona 500. Never mind the fact that Rusty’s son already gets inordinate amounts of air-time on ESPN no matter if he’s running 5th or 35th, Steven has shown nowhere near enough progress in Nationwide to be truly ready for a Cup ride! It’s much like going from a kiddie pool to the Atlantic Ocean, and the best part? It’s uncertain if anyone else will be driving the #77 the rest of the season! While it can be argued that the Daytona 500 purse is enough to justify the investment, if the #77 and #21 do not run the full-season, we could see, that’s right, “independent” or start & park cars (depending on your point of view) in the top 35! Talk about a PR nightmare Brian France does not need right now for a once-robust sport that now seems a bit gaunt compared to its heights almost a decade ago.
More institution-inducing insanity is yet to come. In the latest quagmire of owner-points shuffling, Richard Petty Motorsports sold the old #19 owner points from 2010 to the Wood Brothers, who are only running, as of right now, half the schedule. The #71 TRG team has been rumored to have sold their points to the #27 RCR Menard’s car because one of the main partners, Thomas Pompelly, left the team and used his name to broker a deal with Richard Childress Racing. And the #71, in a classic case of a NASCAR-style Chinese fire-drill, has been rumored to have bought the old RPM #98 points to stay locked in. Yes, fellow readers, this is more confusing than trigonometry! But it’s all part of how the NASCAR machine works these days. One cannot blame the Woods, the Wallaces, and the Childresses of the world for merely taking advantage of loop-holes in the law to ensure their team stays locked in for 2011. Although, truthfully, nothing will top last year’s total debacle with the now-seemingly defunct Latitude 43 Motorsports who bought the “legacy” of #26 Roush car and, more or less, start and parked themselves into NASCAR’s version of purgatory, being outside of the top 35.
But, where one large, looming issue has been is how owners with a sordid NASCAR history, despite getting the “Get Out Of NASCAR. Do Not Pass Go. Do Not Collect $200.” card can still technically stay in the sport as owners. Two cases of this include the nefarious Bobby Ginn, who despite very questionable business practices, in the 2009 season, due to an irritating NASCAR loop-hole, was technically listed as the owner of one of Richard Childress’ cars despite being out of the sport. Another example, this one more recent, of a snake-oil salesman still keeping his name in NASCAR long after his trail of bounced checks and broken promises ended is George Gillett, who is going to technically be listed as the owner of the Wood Brothers #21 in 2011. Just leaves a very bitter taste in your mouth if you’re a long-time NASCAR fan, now doesn’t it?
Of course, another equally-sickening practice is the “past champion’s provisional”, which has become utterly exploited in recent years to where it’s now a complete and utter joke. The problem started in 1998 when Darrell Waltrip used it in 20 out of 33 races that year. The problem was magnified in 2007 with Dale Jarrett, who, despite many great years in NASCAR, was on the downward side of his career and quickly used up his past champion’s provisional and failed to qualify for many races that year. The two worst offenders in recent NASCAR history include Terry Labonte & Bill Elliott. Now, don’t get me wrong, fellow readers. I have a great deal of respect for what “Texas Terry” and “Awesome Bill” have contributed to NASCAR over the years, but even the most casual fans have to admit the fact that either driver would likely pilot a KIA in order to shill their “Past Champion’s Provisional” kind of cheapens their legacy a bit. It has completely devalued and made a complete mockery of a provisional that was instituted for the best of intentions.
In closing, the big question is who is truly to blame here? Do you blame the team owners for these head-spinning moves? Or do you blame NASCAR’s brain-trust for allowing these practices to go on without making any real effort to curb such shenanigans? The end result is fans who are already confused enough seeing a shell of what their great sport once was being further confused on which teams are locked in and which teams are not locked in. And the truly sad thing of it all? This situation, honestly, only looks to be getting worse before it truly gets any better.