The practice of starting-and-parking has been a much discussed topic over the last couple of years.
If you aren’t aware, starting-and-parking refers to a system in which teams enter a race and pull into the garage after only a few laps with a perfectly good race car in order to collect prize money. Teams can turn a profit doing this, because they save money by not hiring a pit crew or buying expensive sets of tires. But whereas this has been fairly prevalent in recent seasons, it is happening a lot less this year.
NASCAR, while not outlawing the practice completely (it’s complicated), has tried different methods to discourage the start-and-park teams. They’ve tried making early exiting teams go through a complicated inspection process, and this year they reduced the prize money paid to the five lowest finishers.
For most of 2012, it wasn’t uncommon to see as many as six or more cars pull off the track early. Some did it all year purely for profit, and others used it as an opportunity to raise money so they could run other races to the finish. Tommy Baldwin is an example of the latter.
But this season, the most cars we’ve seen start-and-park in a race is three. No teams did it at the Daytona 500, and of the five teams to do so, only two, the 44 of Scott Riggs and the 19 of Mike Bliss, have yet to run a full race. The 33 of Landon Cassill, the 98 of Michael McDowell, and the 95 of Scott Speed have all raced to the finish at least once.
I think the reasons why we’ve seen the reduction are twofold. First, I believe NASCAR’s efforts have made some impact, even if it’s only been small. But I think the biggest hurdle for these teams this season has been the introduction of the Gen 6 car. The start-and-park teams are smaller and not flush with cash, and converting old cars to the new version is expensive. Many rely on buying old cars from the big teams, and it will be some time before any Gen 6 cars are available on the secondary market.
Going forward, it will be interesting to see if more start-and-park teams emerge. Inevitably, it will be easier (i.e. cheaper) for the small teams to get Gen 6 cars, and the practice may grow again. It’s not something I’m sure you will ever see go away completely, but I’m glad to see more teams showing up every week intent on running to the checkered.