Stealing spots: Teams once again scheming their way into top 35 in points
In order to guarantee his driver Sam Hornish Jr. a starting position in the first five races of 2009, Roger Penske has bought the #22 car and the owner points from that team will transfer to Penske’s team. Of course, he’ll switch them to the #77 and Hornish can breathe easier on qualifying day for the first five weeks of the year.
Penske is not the only team owner doing this, as it appears there are deals in the works to transfer owner points from teams that are no longer running to the fourth Richard Childress car (driven by Clint Bowyer) and the #09 Phoenix Racing car (being driven by Rochester Hills native Brad Keselowski at Daytona).
While I don’t deny that these last-minute points adjustments will be done within the rules of NASCAR (whatever that‘s worth), I find it very dishonest and think it goes against the very idea of the sport.
I’m not a fan of the top 35 rule in the first place, and think the fastest cars should start each week, with an allotted number of provisionals to each team for the year. But the likelihood of that rule changing is close to zero, so I won’t waste my time explaining how ridiculous it is.
The bigger issue is that now that this top 35 rule is in place, it has created a system where each year teams who are not in the top 35 pull every shady-looking move they can think of to get their teams into the top 35 so they can have a guarantee starting spot for the first five races.
In addition to teams buying other teams with no intention of ever running that extra car (Do you really think Penske will run a fourth car this year? I don ‘t.), there are also swaps within teams, such as the one Penske did last year to give Hornish the points from Kurt Busch’s car, because Busch had a past champion’s provisional to fall back on. It’s somewhat ironic that even after that move, Hornish found himself once again in need a back-door deal to get a guaranteed spot this year.
The big losers in all this dealing are the teams left out of a rightful guaranteed starting spot because of the deals. This year, it appears Marcos Ambrose and A.J. Allmendinger will now have to race their way into the Daytona 500. Instead of sliding up the points chart into the top 35 when a few cars stopped running, they will likely be back on the outside looking in.
Meanwhile, through one of these deals, John Andretti and the back marker #34 car will have a guaranteed starting spot at Daytona … while Ambrose and Allmendinger will probably have to make it through the qualifying races. Make any sense to you?
It shouldn’t, but it’s the kind of thing that happens when NASCAR goes against the spirit of competition by letting teams use business deals instead of fast cars to get their cars into the races.
Instead of ‘Go fast or go home’, it has become ‘Buy points or go home’.
Expectations too high?
In watching recent media coverage of the upcoming NASCAR season, I’ve noticed a couple opinions I’m hearing over and over that seem a bit out of whack.
Almost every commentator I hear is saying Tony Stewart WILL make the Chase. I don’t doubt he CAN, as Tony is tremendously talented. But to say with complete confidence that he WILL before his brand new car with a brand new team hits a track seems a bit premature. There are several strong Hendrick cars, several strong Gibbs cars, several strong RCR cars and several strong Roush cars that might not want to let Tony into that exclusive club of 12 drivers fighting for the title.
Also, everyone seems absolutely confident that Mark Martin WILL make the Chase and perhaps even compete for the title. I’m a big fan of Mark and believe he is probably the best driver never to win a title in the modern era, so he definitely has a shot at the Chase. But he will have to beat the same laundry list of drivers as Tony. And while he is at an elite team, he is the fourth car at Hendrick, and no matter how much they say all four cars are equal, it’s hard to believe Mark will be treated the same as three-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson.