Opinion: Much Ado About Nothing

NASCAR

Scott Riggs made 20 starts in the No. 23 Chevrolet in 2012 and completed a total of 511 of 6,238 possible laps. (Photo: Getty Images)

Friends we’ve got trouble, right here in NASCAR Nation. It starts with an S and includes a P and rhymes with gee….as in what’s the big deal?

The perceived dilemma I’m referring to are the dreaded “start and park” teams and the notion their very existence in NASCAR is akin to drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa.

To listen to some, small independent operations that follow all the rules and qualify for a Sprint Cup Series field but then drop out early because funding won’t allow these teams to go any further are threatening to send the sport careening down a path of destruction.

Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman Bruton Smith and Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage have been the most vocal of their disdain for the practice and both have spoken out in recent days.

"Start-and-park should not be a part of what we do. I think this is derogatory for our sport," Smith told reporters recently. "I'm going to try my best and I hope you'll join me and see if NASCAR can't do something about this. Because it's certainly not adding anything to our sport and it does take away."

Gossage, who has complained about the situation for years, is in unison with the SMI headman.

"NASCAR has an obligation to the fans to not allow this," Gossage said. "People are stealing in broad daylight in front of 150,000 fans in the grandstands and millions of people watching at home."

As two of the gentlemen on the hook for paying out Sprint Cup Series purses, both are certainly entitled to their opinions. It appears NASCAR sees the point at least to a degree based on the purse restructure announced earlier this week.

A reallocation of the payout at the back of each week’s field was done in hopes of encouraging these smaller teams to compete “harder” and close a loophole some have admittedly used to collect paydays.

In reality the shifting of a few thousand dollars most likely won’t change things much this season. However the sentiment is misguided.

Not every team on the S&P plan shows up simply to take the green flag, head to the garage with a mysterious “mechanical” problem and then collect a paycheck. It’s been well documented the likes of Tommy Baldwin Racing, Swan Racing and Phil Parsons Racing are trying to not just survive but prosper with intentions to become full-fledged, competitive race teams.

Painting with a broad brush trying to wipe out those with different objectives runs the big risk of potentially killing the sport’s future.

Sprint Cup owners don’t grow on trees and the last time I looked there weren’t too many well-heeled individuals knocking down NASCAR’s door to buy a top notch race team. As long as the sport’s business model maintains ownership as an independent contractor relationship rather than a more stick and ball traditional franchise system, the odds of someone buying their way into the NASCAR Sprint Cup garage will continue to dwindle.

A team starting small and growing its way to the top is the template most of today’s successful owners followed including Rick Hendrick, Jack Roush, Joe Gibbs, Roger Penske and Richard Childress. Each of their operations were born of humble beginnings and eventually flourished with hard work, determination and an opportunity to compete.

Taking steps to somehow fix the perceived problem may very well be throwing out the baby with the bathwater. By tinkering with the back end of the purse to stop those from “stealing” as Gossage calls it, the unintended consequence would be an impact to those teams trying to grow for the future.

I’m perplexed as to why this has become such a hot button topic and question whether fans are really affected at all? Of all the challenges facing NASCAR in 2013 and beyond, this should be well down the list of priorities. I’d be much more concerned about lagging attendance, lower television ratings and enhancing competition at the front of the field, especially on intermediate-sized tracks, than worrying about five or six teams at the back of the rundown.

There are more than enough issues to be addressed moving ahead than a handful of small teams filling out a field.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup

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