Let’s face it. Many times it is easier to ignore a problem than to deal with it. We as human beings often times have a tendency to sweep our troubles under the rug and then proceed to act as if they are not there, hoping everyone else will forget about them as well. This pretty well describes the attitude NASCAR has taken on the issue of start-and-parks. Seen by many as a black eye to the sport, there are others who point to the current success of former start-and-park teams such as Tommy Baldwin and Furniture Row. This is not what I want to address; what I wish to address about start-and-parks is that NASCAR isn’t addressing them. The powers that be in the NASCAR tower try to treat everyone the same, and in theory that’s a wonderful idea. I mean, we live in America, right?
The problem is, in the NASCAR world, everyone is not the same, so they can’t be treated the same. Teams that show up to the track eyeing a win are obviously not quite the same as those who are hoping for a top 10 finish to attract sponsors, but neither of these are anywhere close to the same as those teams who arrive at the track with the full intention of not running the full race. Is different bad? Who knows. But different should not be a dirty word and ignored. So how should it be treated then? Going by the ideology that the simplest answer is usually the best, different should be handled, well, differently.
This seems intuitive, almost anti-intellectual, and yet Mr. France and NASCAR seem to think that if they ignore start-and-parks, then we as fans will eventually either be too stupid to realize they are out there each and every week or just grow tolerant to them. I find this demeaning and insulting. Perhaps this was not their intention (at least I hope it was not), but this does not change the issue at hand.
The issue of start-and-parks has recently been reignited not in the Cup series, where the issue first gained fan attention, but the Nationwide series, a series desperately trying to reclaim its own identity. The new Nationwide car and lower purse money have driven some teams out of the sport and left other independent or non-Cup affiliated programs scrounging for the leftovers. The only recourse left for these teams to gain the funding they need to run is bringing out start-and-park entry. At last week’s race at Nashville, there were 11 start-and-park teams; only one was not a teammate to a car that intended to run the full distance. The previous week, there were 8 start-and-parks; again, only one was a stand-alone car. Two weeks ago, 8 start-and-parks, only two were not affiliated with a team car. The identity of start-and-parks have shifted from the days of MSRP and Prism (who ran two start-and-park teams nearly every week and no team that ran the full distance and received much criticism) to being simply an additional paycheck for teams in their attempt to become successful in the series.
This change brings with it its own set of problems, however, which have been clearly demonstrated recently by three teams: Key Motorsports, Rick Ware Racing, and Jay Robinson Racing. All were until very recently highly respected teams in the garage area, shining examples of Nationwide-only teams living the dream and struggling to make a name. Unfortunately, their dreams probably had a much better ending then reality has had for them. Now, they are struggling with new cars and low funding, and in an economically tough climate, sponsors are not jumping at the opportunity to sponsor them. Thus, they have taken it upon themselves to be their own sponsor. All three of these teams entered three start-and-park teams last race at Nashville. That’s three cars in effect “sponsoring” one car. 8 of the 11 teams that ended the race prematurely were from these nine teams (the other failed to qualify). No matter your own opinion on start-and-parks, there is no doubt in my mind that this issue has gone on for too long unaddressed by NASCAR, leaving it alone as if it were a cancer cell, and just like a cancer cell, it has spread far beyond appropriate boundaries.
So now the part everyone wants to know: what can NASCAR do? What are the solutions? Truth be told, I can’t give you a perfect answer. It just doesn’t exist. I can, however, give a suggestion, which can then be used as a springboard for further improvement. I will use a case example here from the previously mentioned Tommy Baldwin. Earlier this year, Baldwin’s driver Dave Blaney wrecked his (sponsored) car at Phoenix during practice. Later that day, Baldwin announced that he and the sponsor had come to an agreement to put the company’s name on the car at Las Vegas instead, and Blaney would start-and-park the car at Phoenix to save that car. That’s right, he announced it. Obviously this didn’t go over well with NASCAR. Why? Because it acknowledged that they existed. But perhaps this is where the remedy needs to begin. Perhaps when a team enters a car into the race, they must state their intention to start-and-park that car or not, with the knowledge that they could change this prior to arriving at the track if a sponsor is found/lost, or even if something along the lines of what happened to Baldwin’s team were to happen. This would be a huge step for this issue, as it would address the fact that start-and-park teams exist in the eyes of NASCAR. It’s even written down, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Obviously proper punishment would need to be devised for those teams who fail to satisfy this requirement (disqualification of an entry, the good ol’ “actions detrimental to the sport” fine, etc.), but this is simply a minor detail; the main point is that it addresses the issue, not ignore it. Perhaps it could even be used for other things, such as limiting the amount of start-and-park cars per team to two (three seems way over the top).
Nevertheless, as a loyal fan, I ask NASCAR to stop treating us like fools and finally step up and address this issue. Your comments below are appreciated and encouraged, as I’m sure nearly every NASCAR fan has a stance on this issue.