Views from the Grandstands

Kay Bell | September 01, 2010

Backmarkers, Be Gone!

It’s time for NASCAR to get tough with drivers who just aren’t competitive


Times are still tough, so far be it from me to wish anyone out of a job. But really, NASCAR, do we have to keep putting up with cars that shouldn’t be on the track?

Crew members work to replace the fuel pump assembly on Kevin Harvick’s Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet during green flag racing action. Teams that can’t justify car problems should be docked their prize money.

I’m talking about the perennial backmarkers, the guys who just fill out the field and quickly go a lap down, or two or three. Or worse, the start-and-park contingent, those teams that squeak their way into the field, then exit immediately just to collect the check.

Cars that can’t keep up add nothing to the show. At best, they clog up the track. At worst, they ruin the hopes of more legitimate drivers — and their fans — sometimes in catastrophic ways.

To clear out the deadwood, NASCAR needs to think like Formula 1.

For several years, F1 had what is called the “107 percent rule,” which meant that any car that couldn’t qualify within 107 percent of the pole winner’s time couldn’t race that week. As an easy example, if the pole-winning time is 100 seconds, then anyone who qualifies slower than 107 seconds goes home, regardless of whether it’s a big-name driver with a zillion-dollar sponsorship or a first-timer running on his own dime.

F1 instituted this rule for the 1996 season, but ended it after 2002 under pressure from sponsors after too-slow cars weren’t allowed to start roughly 20 percent of the races over that time period. But this year, several new teams have joined F1, and not all of them are up to speed. So despite the economic protests, the 107 percent rule will be back in force next season.

I would love to see NASCAR implement a similar deal, because some of those “go or go home” teams need to just stay home until they can get serious about competing.

If you think I’m being too tough, my response is this: Sprint Cup is the top rung of American motor­sports, and there should be no room for anyone who can’t clearly compete. If you can’t hack it, there’s always Nationwide or ARCA or the regional series.

And once the green flag is dropped, NASCAR needs to get brutal about cars that can’t keep up.

Once a race hits halfway, I say park any cars that are just limping along. NASCAR already has a minimum speed rule in place, but how slow do you have to go to get sent to the garage? I’m sick of seeing the cars whipping around the track at full speed having to dodge some poor guy puttering around the bottom just trying to rack up a few measly points.

A fix would require some tweaking of the point system. I say everyone who finishes 30th or worse gets the same number of points, and don’t be shy about showing that black flag to cars that just need to call it a day.

As turned off as I am by the slow-goers, I’m really upset by the start-and-parkers — teams that show up, qualify, start the race, run a few laps, then mysteriously develop “engine trouble” and retire to the garage. Yes, this is an easy payday. But NASCAR ought to do everything in its power to stop it.

Start-and-park has been a part of NASCAR for years, but it seems like it’s getting dramatically worse this season. Three cars started and parked at Las Vegas last spring and, according to some reports (there’s no official tally because some teams won’t admit to doing it), six teams did so at Fontana.