by: PattyKay Lilley
Good day gentle readers, and welcome to RacersReunion, a site we know is read by folks that matter. Good day also to the NASCAR representative reading this edition of “A Voice For The Fans.” We kept you busy last week, didn’t we? The purpose of these columns is to discuss with the fans things they feel deserve the attention of NASCAR. In short, to make their voices heard, and it is my distinct pleasure to assist toward that end.
We had much… and I use that word cautiously… discussion last week about the Chase… for No Sponsorship. We tried, but unfortunately did not succeed in talking it to death. This week our topic du jur will be the guaranteed spot in any given race for the top 35 in owner points. I confess right up front that I was not a fan of this move eight years ago, and it makes far less sense today than it did then.
While I “understand”, not to be confused with “agree with”, the reasoning behind this gimmick… yes Mr. France, it is indeed a gimmick, one of many… I would say its time was over before it began. By offering this guarantee, NASCAR hoped to placate the fears of some of the remaining larger sponsors that their rolling billboards might miss a Sunday here or there. We used to have a provisional system that offered that protection, but with a limit placed on how many times a team could use a provisional spot to participate in a race. It worked well for many years and was still working well when replaced in 2004 (that year again) by the new all-inclusive “guarantee.”
Now gentle readers, we are not stupid, you and I, and we are well aware of which cars and drivers are likely to be a factor in a race on any given Sunday. Sadly, there are not nearly enough of those high probability teams to fill anything like the top 35 in points. Please allow me to point out here a short list of ten teams that at present occupy positions 35 – 26, counting toward the top of the list from the bottom:
35. #36 Allan Heinke J.J. Yeley
34. #32 Frank Stoddard Jr. T.J. Bell
33. #10 Tommy Baldwin Danica Patrick
32. #83 Thomas Ueberall Landon Cassill
31. #34 Bob Jenkins David Ragan
30. #13 Bob Germain Casey Mears
29. #38 Brad Jenkins David Gilliland
28. #93 Thomas Ueberall Travis Kvapil
27. #51 James Finch Kurt Busch
26. #47 Tad Geschickter Bobby Labonte
That list gives position in points, car#, listed car owner and driver as of New Hampshire. Maybe it’s just me, but of the ten, I see only one car/driver combination that “might” or “could”, with a large amount of luck and a like amount of survival on the Monster Mile, be a possible winner on Sunday, and even that is extremely doubtful. Yet each of them enjoys a guarantee that he… and she… will race on Sunday, no matter what.
Here’s one part of this scenario that I find particularly offensive. Directly behind the #36 supposedly now owned by Allan Heinke, whose name is totally unfamiliar to me (Has been Bob Jenkins’ car for several years) is a team familiar to every race fan; the Wood Brothers, with driver and Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne at the wheel. This is a team that is honest. They cannot afford, at today’s prices, to go racing every week, so they run when there is funding, aka sponsorship. They do NOT start and park for extra funds. That would be so far beneath these good men that one would never find bottom. For that, they are punished and run every race as what we’ve come to know as “go or go homers.”
Allow me, if you will, to share another fact about the Wood Brothers’ team. Though they are 119 points behind that #36 team, they have run only 11 races to the 28 run by the start and park bunch that holds a guaranteed spot. Moreover, they are well ahead of nine other teams, all of which have more starts to their credit, and all of whom engage regularly in pitting and quitting. Think about it! One spot away from a guarantee, having run only 11 races! That paints a very accurate picture of the quality of race teams we have competing (?) today.
I don’t think I have to explain to anyone reading this that there is a real shortage of competitive cars at the Cup level today. Some weeks, we are lucky to see even enough to fill NASCAR’s arbitrary number of 43 cars in the field. (I have my suspicions about that as well, but we’ll talk of that another day) Right now though, I’d like to address a companion subject to the guaranteed top 35, and that is qualifying. I actually like the way qualifying is being done now, with qualifying order set by practice speeds rather than by luck of the draw. Works for me, and seems much fairer to all concerned.
What good is it? Why, in a time when it costs a small fortune just to start the engine in one of those big ol’ cars, are we running full qualifications in order to set only the eight cars at the rear of the field? Sure, I guess it can be argued that it’s part of the “show”, a word I’ve come to detest mightily… but is it? When they qualify on Saturday, take a good look at how many fannies are seated in that grandstand at Dover… and remember, there is a Nationwide race there later on that same day. If it’s like every other race I’ve watched this year, almost no one will show up to watch quals. Why? Because they don’t mean anything anymore! We already know the names, faces and paint schemes of those we’ll be giving a damn about come Sunday. Might as well take in some of the countryside or local amenities rather than go and watch qualifying for last place.
Oh, and did I mention that the top 35 in points are also the only cars of some 59 possibles listed on nascar.com that have run all 28 races to date? I know some of the teams are trying to make it on a shoestring… teams like Frankie Stoddard’s, the Wood Bros. and a few others, but I also know that many are not. They come, they park and they cash a check.
NASCAR, would it be too much to ask that they not be guaranteed that check before the race begins? If racing cannot be made more accessible to the poor (Poor as compared to Rick Hendrick, Jack Roush, Joe Gibbs and Richard Childress), couldn’t we at least have qualifying mean something? Bring back the provisional starts that worked for so long, and let’s lose this meaningless game of guaranteeing start and park teams a spot in every race. Let them earn those spots just as their predecessors did.
All right race fans, I expect we’ll be having some conversation about this one, just as we did last week about another segment of the changes from 2004. I’ve started out with things I’ve heard many of you discussing and questioning. Come on in and join the conversation. This is your chance to speak and be heard… or at least be read, and I promise you, they are reading every word.
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!
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