Besides one loophole, NASCAR's getting it right

March 20, 2010, 5:05 PM

By: Eddie Gossage

This week a writer from Redbook (yes, the women's magazine) asked me what I would do if I were running NASCAR to improve the sport.

I thought about it for a moment and said, "Nothing. The racing is better than it has been in so many years. We have more lead changes and closer margin of victory than the supposedly good ol' days. Nothing, really."

The reporter sounded disappointed. He said he was told I was one of the better interviews in sports and was surprised at my response. After all, I've never pulled any punches in saying the NASCAR emperor has no clothes.

So I thought about it. Is that really how I felt?

Well, I have long wanted NASCAR to let the drivers handle things between themselves, the way it used to be done.

Check. NASCAR has done that. "Have at it, boys." Feuds between Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards, Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick and a few other feuds simmering in the garage attest to that.

Good job, NASCAR. (Some, particularly the folks at NASCAR's world-wide headquarters in Daytona Beach, never thought they would hear me say that.)

The fans weren't crazy about the new race car, previously called the "Car of Tomorrow." So NASCAR is eliminating the ugly rear wing and going back to the spoiler next week in Martinsville. Part of it is function, because many think the spoiler will allow more side-by-side racing, and part of it is aesthetics, because NASCAR race cars have historically run a spoiler.

Good move, NASCAR.

Since I really like NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup, which has been the subject of some fan discomfort, I have to support NASCAR on that one. Every other sport has a playoff, why not our sport? Brian France has been a strong, inclusive leader, and I have to give him credit.

But what would I change if I were dictator for the day? (That's not a bad idea, actually.)

And there it was in the paper today. Start-and-parks. That's what I would change.

The start-and-park practice has become obvious to even the most casual observers in the last 3-4 years. That's a car that qualifies but has no plans to truly race. The driver will run a handful of laps and then park the car, pocketing the last-place prize money. It just shows you how (ridiculously) high the purses are at NASCAR Sprint Cup races these days. Word has it that a NASCAR Nationwide start-and-park team netted -- netted -- $600,000 last year for former Cup series driver and now team owner Phil Parsons. And I thought everyone was complaining that there was no money in the Nationwide Series these days.

The rumor has it that Parsons decided to move his start-and-park team to the bigger money, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, this year. Why not qualify, run a few laps and then park the car, taking home the much bigger last-place money in the premiere series?

So Parsons, a racing lifer who knows how to make race cars go very fast, is fielding a Cup team or two in races here and there.

This weekend at Bristol, one of his cars driven by Dave Blaney qualified third -- third -- fastest. Blaney admitted that he doesn't know if Parsons will allow him to truly race Sunday or order him to park the car and collect the purse money.

Now, I like Blaney and I really like Parsons. You have to give credit to an entrepreneur like Parsons who knows he can't finance a team well enough to race mid-pack, much less at the front of the pack. He found a loophole.

But is that fair to the fans? Is it fair to the promoter? Is there one fan who buys a ticket to see Blaney run eight laps? Is it fair to require the promoter to pay more than $80,000 to Parsons' team after Blaney parks the car?

No. There is no question about that. As a promoter I'd rather start 35 cars than pay several hundred thousand dollars to cars that aren't going to contribute to the quality of the race and aren't going to draw one fan to the race.

NASCAR does have a new a rule this year requiring that the first car out be inspected and must have a legitimate reason to park the car. But there are so many things that can be "wrong" with a car and much of the discretion falls to the driver.

So, NASCAR, you've done a good job -- make that a great job -- addressing some of the issues in the sport.

Now let's look at the start-and-parks.

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