Thursday, April 16, 2009

How the start-and-park phenomenon proves the top-35 rule should be abolished

It's always interesting when you read a quote about one issue and it makes you wonder why it doesn't apply to a greater whole.

NASCAR has gotten a lot of heat about the prevalence of "start and park" teams in it's lower divisions and more recently in the Cup Series. The teams are not there to race the full distance. Most make a couple of laps and pull into the garage, collecting their sub-40th-place money and head for home. For a team that can routinely qualify for the races, it can be a profitable venture.

Some race fans don't like it. And the noise they've made has put the issue on the radar for some media outlets, and they've asked NASCAR about it.

In a recent story, the sanctioning body said it has no plans to police the so-called start and park teams. Other stories had quotes from Robin Pemberton saying he would like to eliminate these teams and could conceivably put cars dropping out early through a rigorous inspection to validate their reason to be out of the race.

It turns out NASCAR doesn't really care how long someone stays in competition once they've made the show.

"NASCAR doesn't perceive this to be an issue. It doesn't impact the quality of competition whatsoever. NASCAR has always been about teams having the opportunity to participate in our sport; some teams might not have the full complement of resources to compete at the same level as others, but it's all about having an opportunity."

That's interesting, because there are other rules in place that limit that opportunity. Yep, you guessed it: the much maligned "top-35 rule."

No other rule has taken away that opportunity more than the rule locking in teams based on their position in the point standings.

Every team that shows up to compete should have the exact same opportunity to make the field. Yes, Gunselman Motorsports should have the same chance as Hendrick Motorsports.

There is no doubt that there should be a fall-back provision in place for anyone that falters in a point.

At one time, NASCAR had a wonderful process to set the field. You had a qualifying session on Friday that set the top half of the field, and a qualifying session on Saturday that set the second half. On top of that, there were two provisional positions available for the highest two teams in the owners points that weren't already in the field. That gave you two shots to make it in on speed, and if you weren't in yet but high enough in the points you could still make it. Now, it seems qualifying is nothing more than an afterthought. It shows too as crowds in the grandstand when they roll for the pole are smaller now than they've been in years.

Make qualifying mean something for more than just 8 drivers. It might just reignite some interest in the sport with some of the long-time fans who find other things to do - and other places to spend their money than at the racetrack - on Friday and Saturday.

1 comment:

  1. The top-35 rule has made qualifying of very little interest to fans, but the worst thing is that the rest have little chance of moving into the top 35 because they have to work on qualifying setups while those locked in are working on race setups. Even if they manage to qualify, they are not competitive on race day and end up racing each other 3 laps down.