In response to complaints from some track operators and many fans, NASCAR trimmed the payoff for positions 39 through 43 by $4,000 per position, as compared to last season. And while just three races are complete in the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, it appears that revised payoff structure has dramatically reduced the number of “start and park” drivers in competition.
In last year’s Daytona 500, just one driver utilized a “start and park” strategy. Robby Gordon exited the race after 25 laps, claiming engine failure. Gordon’s effort was underfunded – he competed in only three races all season – and his withdrawal was widely accepted to be a “start and park.” Two other drivers -- David Ragan and Jimmie Johnson -- completed only one lap before being swept-up in a crash, and while both were unable to continue, neither of their withdrawals fell in the “start and park” category.
This season, Kevin Harvick and Joe Nemechek were credited with the final two spots in the Daytona 500 finishing order, but neither of them took the “start and park” route. Harvick suffered early crash damage and completed just 47 of 200 laps, while Nemechek was swept up in the same wreck and retired for good on lap 42.
In last year’s “Subway Fresh Fit 500” at Phoenix International Raceway, four drivers started and parked. Nemechek retired on lap 87, with Gordon (33 laps), Riggs (29 laps) and McDowell (eight laps) also making early withdrawals.
Two weeks ago at PIR, Scott Speed, Mike Bliss and Riggs claimed the final three spots in the finishing order. Only Speed and Bliss were “start and parkers,” however. Speed’s Leavine Family Racing Ford completed 88 circuits before retiring, while Bliss’ No. 19 Toyota completed 35 laps. Riggs’ XXXtreme Racing Ford suffered an early right-front tire failure and clouted the wall, ending his day just 19 laps in.
In 2012 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, three drivers appeared to utilize a “start and park” strategy; Josh Wise, Nemechek and J.J. Yeley. Wise’s day ended after 64 laps with a reported brake issue, Nemechek bailed out after 44 laps with the dreaded “vibration” and Yeley lasted just 39 laps before taking it to the house with a reported engine issue in his America Israel Racing Toyota. Driver Timmy Hill finished 42nd in Vegas that day, but crashed his Rick Ware Racing Ford on lap 42.
This season, two drivers appeared to be “start and park” racers in Las Vegas. Michael McDowell “start and parked” after just 21 laps in the Phil Parsons Racing No. 98 Ford, en route to 43rd place in the final rundown. Landon Cassill completed 66 laps in Joe Falk’s Chevrolet before going behind the wall and finishing 42nd.
All told, it appears that NASCAR’s attempt to reduce (or even eliminate) “start and park” drivers is producing the desired results. Instances of unnecessary early exits have dropped from 10 a year ago to just two so far in 2013, and two of the three races to date have been “start and park” free. While promoters are paying the same base purse as last season -- payout for the final four finishers has been reduced, with the money redistributed through the rest of the finishing order -- fans have had fewer early retirees on whom to focus their ire.