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.

The most egregious example occurred mid-July in the Nationwide race in St. Louis, where a whopping 13 cars did it. Making it worse was that their intentions were no secret. Even before the race, Internet message boards lit up with reports of this planned mass exodus. And sure enough, a few laps in, the ESPN announcers began rattling off the list of drivers who had gone to the garage.

My suggestion: Every car that exits a race before the halfway point without being involved in a wreck must go through inspection before that team can leave the track. If NASCAR can’t find a real, unfixable problem, then that team receives no prize money. And if a team is caught more than once a season, then it cannot even try to qualify for that series for one year.

Again, am I being too harsh? You tell me — why should we fans support a race when a significant number of the teams involved won’t?

Kay Bell is an Austin, Texas-based writer. When she’s not yelling at her television during NASCAR races, she blogs about taxes and other financial topics at www.dontmesswithtaxes.typepad.com.


LOOSE LUGNUTS

More than ‘rubbing’ The animosity between Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski flared up again in the Nationwide race at Gateway in mid-July when yet another bumping match between the two led to Edwards literally driving through Keselowski, sending him into the wall, spinning across the track and taking a vicious hit as the checkers waved. In Victory Lane, Edwards freely admitted he wrecked Keselowski on purpose.

After the race, Nationwide Series director Joe Balash attributed the incident to “hard racing,” but he is dead wrong not to dole out some discipline. As I wrote back in May after an earlier Edwards-Keselowski run-in that resulted in probation for Edwards, NASCAR cannot just let boys be boys. These childish feuds are dangerous and costly, not just for these two drivers but for everyone on the track — just ask the owners of the many cars needlessly ruined. And we’ll see what Balash says when someone is seriously injured or worse.

Way to go, Junior A quick congratulations to Dale Earnhardt Jr. for winning the Nationwide summer race at Daytona in a car carrying his dad’s famous No. 3 with Wrangler colors and sponsorship. And congrats for realizing that, as I wrote in the June issue, once is enough for this kind of deal. Junior is absolutely right to end his experience with the iconic No. 3 with a big win and a lot of great memories.

NASCAR pioneer passes NASCAR missed a golden opportunity when it opened its Hall of Fame in May. In attendance was 96-year-old Raymond Parks, the last survivor among the sport’s founders. However, he wasn’t one of the inaugural inductees. In fact, he’s not mentioned in the history section of the Sprint Cup Series media guide.

But Parks, who died in June, was instrumental in getting NASCAR on track. The former Georgia moonshiner was among the three dozen racing figures who met at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach, Fla., in December of 1947 to create the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing. In addition, he owned the cars driven by Red Byron to win the first NASCAR race in Daytona Beach in 1948 and to earn the first NASCAR “Strictly Stock” championship in 1949. No less than Junior Johnson called Parks the “first contributor to NASCAR.” Seems like that alone would make him worthy of a few lines in the sport’s official history.

OverdriveOnline.com strives to maintain an open forum for reader opinions. Click here to read our comment policy.