Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Penske Points Swap Legal, But Wrong

Roger Penske said this week that he may take advantage of a NASCAR rule allowing him to swap owners’ points between Kurt Busch’s #2 team and the new, #77 Dodge he will field for rookie Sam Hornish, Jr., next season. That move will guarantee Hornish a spot in the Top-35 to begin the 2008 season, and assure that he will qualify for the first five races of the year. Busch will also be a guaranteed starter for the first five races, based on his status as a past Nextel Cup Series champion.

Penske’s point swap is absolutely legal and aboveboard. However, it clearly goes against the spirit of the rule, and exposes a loophole in NASCAR’s regulations that needs to be closed.

NASCAR’s Top-35 rule – flawed as it may be – was devised for a very simple reason; to reward top teams for their loyalty to the series by ensuring that they are in the starting field every week. Unfortunately, NASCAR’s “point-swap” loophole allows a team owner like Penske to circumvent the intent of the rule. Instead of rewarding Busch’s team for its 2007 performance, NASCAR will reward a team that did not even exist this season.

After some savvy front-office finagling, Hornish – who has attempted to qualify for only seven races this season (succeeding just once) – will receive a guaranteed starting spot for the season-opening Daytona 500, while drivers like Brian Vickers, AJ Allmendinger, David Reutimann and Michael Waltrip – each of whom attempted all 36 races in 2007 – will not. In effect, NASCAR will issue a free pass to a team that has no equity in the series, while penalizing teams that have invested a full season of blood, sweat and tears.

That cannot be what NASCAR had in mind.

Fortunately, the loophole is a simple one to close. NASCAR needs to make its car owner points non-transferable, and award them to a specific team, rather than the owner of that team. No more backdoor maneuvering, no more buying points from part-time teams (a gamble that blew up in Morgan-McClure’s face earlier this season), and no more smoke and mirrors.

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