Start and park
Start and park is a term used in NASCAR-sanctioned and other auto racing sanctioning bodies to describe the practice of racing teams starting races but pulling the car off the track after just a few laps in order to collect prize money while avoiding expenses such as replacement tires, engine wear and tear, and/or hiring a pit crew. The practice exists because there is little difference in prize money between a start-and-park car and a car which runs the whole race but finishes toward the back of the field.
In some cases, a team will use a start-and-park car to help fund another competitive car. This is very prevalent in the Nationwide Series, notably by MSRP Motorsports, The Motorsports Group, and TriStar Motorsports. However there are some cases in which a small underfunded team does use this money to eventually run full races, or conserve the car. Teams like NEMCO-JRR Motorsports and Leavine Family Racing have done this in the past.
In 2013 and 2014, changes in the structuring of prize money awards have made starting and parking less attractive, encouraging (or forcing) low-budget teams to run full races.
A start and park occurs when a race team pulls out of a race early on, rather than completing the full race, and will be credited with a DNF. This practice is the result of the high costs of running a full race and hiring a pit crew, as well as the high payout from simply qualifying for a race. For example, at a June 2009 race, Joe Nemechek earned $64,725 after finishing 41st in a start and park effort, while Dexter Bean ran the entire race to a 36th place finish and earned only $725 more ($65,450). Younger teams will often start and park early on to gain funds, experience, and information to run future races competitively. Cup teams such has Germain Racing, Tommy Baldwin Racing, and Phil Parsons Racing have parked in many of their early starts, before finding sponsorship and success in later endeavors.
Other times, teams will field one or multiple additional cars to earn money so their primary car(s) can run the full race. Since 2011, 2000 Busch Series Champion Jeff Green has start and parked for most of his starts in the #10 for TriStar Motorsports, while the #14, #19, and #44 have run the full race. Green has had the most last place finishes in every year since 2013; a total of 37 last place finishes.
When retiring from a race, a start and park team will usually list a mechanical failure as the reason for not finishing (Transmission, Electrical, Overheating, Suspension, etc...) Because of this, there is no official way to determine if a team intended to not finish without impounding the race car for a full inspection. NASCAR currently does not keep start-and-park statistics. A blog called LASTCAR on the other hand, attempts to quantify last place finishes; the recipient of the most last-place finishes in each of the top three touring series is crowned LASTCAR champion for the year. In 2013, Phil Parsons Racing driver Michael McDowell was crowned with a third consecutive "LASTCAR Championship" after earning 8 last place finishes that year and 19 over the three year period.
In a couple of cases, a team that entered the season finale with the points lead entered an additional car in order to maximize their chances of clinching the season championship. The extra car would prevent the contender from finishing last, provide a back-up car in case the primary car failed at the starting grid, and could serve as a blocker, although unsportsmanlike conduct was never used nor condoned.
During the 1993 Hooters 500, the season finale, Dale Earnhardt, driving for Richard Childress Racing (RCR), entered the race with the championship lead. Mathematically, as long as Earnhardt did not finish worse than 34th, he would accumulate enough points to clinch the 1993 NASCAR Winston Cup championship, his sixth title. RCR entered veteran Neil Bonnett in a second car (#31), and Bonnett qualified 35th as a team backup. The team arranged that Bonnett would step aside from the #31 car, in the last minute, in the event that Earnhardt's car, after pre-race inspection, suffered mechanical failure on the grid or during the pace laps. If Earnhardt started the race in the #31 car, by rule, he would be awarded full points for that entry. Earnhardt started his primary car as expected, and Bonnett pulled off the track to finish last after 5 laps. The team gave the reason of "engine failure." Bonnett's intentional start and park helped maximize Earnhardt's finishing position, as only seven other cars had to drop out for Earnhardt to clinch the title. The #31 car would be later run as RCR's 2nd full time entry with Mike Skinner, Robby Gordon, Jeff Burton and Ryan Newman driving since 1995, while Lowe's, AT&T, and Caterpillar have been the sponsor since 1995.
At the 1995 season finale, the NAPA 500, Hendrick Motorsports entered a fourth car just for this race just in case the unforeseen were to hit Jeff Gordon's car. If problems were to befall Gordon's car, the car would immediately pull off the track and retire from the race. This was the #58 Chevrolet with "Racing for a Reason" on the quarterpanels. Racing for a Reason referred to finding a cure for leukemia, a disease that owner Rick Hendrick had been diagnosed with. The team had originally hired Jimmy Horton to drive the car in the race. Horton qualified the car in 34th, but was unable to race it due to serious injuries suffered in a terrible crash in the ARCA Bondo Mar-Hyde Series support race the day before the NAPA 500. Jeff Purvis was then hired to sub for Horton in the #58 and drove the car to a 26th place finish, 8 laps down. The former 58 car is now known as the 48 car driven by Jimmie Johnson with Lowe's sponsorship since 2002. The team won 5 straight Sprint Cup Championships between 2006 and 2010, and won a sixth title in 2013.
In the late 2000s the number of start and park teams had noticeably increased. Among the most well-known examples in the Nationwide Series are MSRP Motorsports (which ran two start-and-park cars #s 90 & 91 and, Jay Robinson Racing (which had one fully sponsored team (#28) to run the race, an occasional part time team (#4, #70), and one start and park team (#49) to help finance that team). The Phil Parsons-owned MSRP gained much notoriety for only starting and parking, but as of 2014 Parson's Cup team has found some success as a full-race team. Phoenix Racing, a team known for its prowess at Superspeedways, and veteran driver Joe Ruttman famously failed to hire a pit crew during their one lap performance in the 2004 Sprint Cup Series race at Rockingham Speedway. NASCAR parked Ruttman, and owner James Finch vowed never to start-and-park again, though they have done it since then. Former Cup Series drivers Derrike Cope and Morgan Shepherd have admitted to the starting and parking some Nationwide races in order have funds to qualify for others.
In 2009, Cup teams like Prism Motorsports (#66, successor to MSRP), Tommy Baldwin Racing (#36), NEMCO Motorsports (#87, Front Row Motorsports (#37) and TRG Motorsports (#71) were notable start and park teams. While Prism and NEMCO ran almost exclusively start and park, TBR ran some full races when funding and resources were available. Front Row's #37 car was run to support their full-time #34 car, with both cars advertising owner Bob Jenkins Taco Bell and Long John Silvers franchises. TRG meanwhile would run full-races with 2000 Cup Champion Bobby Labonte and sponsor Taxslayer, while parking with David Gilliland when there was no sponsor. Phoenix Racing, which had sponsorship from Miccosukee Resort and Gaming, ran full races in Hendrick Chevys for Brad Keselowski (10 races) and Ron Fellows (2 races), while often parking in Dodges with veterans Sterling Marlin and Mike Bliss. Fellows ran competitively during his road course races, and Keselowski scored his and Finch's first victory at Talladega. Aric Almirola ran the full race at Loudon, finishing 29th in a Dodge,
In 2010, Dave Blaney of Prism/HP Motorsports ran the whole race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the first time he completed a race since the 2009 Coca-Cola 600 (rain-shortened), but the first full distance race since 2008. However, his teammate Michael McDowell (#55) in all of his races, minus the 2010 Daytona 500, has parked in each of the races he ran. Teams like Latitude 43 Motorsports and Braun Racing were start and parkers for the majority of their season, though Braun only ran a partial Cup season and ran extremely competitively in the Nationwide Series. The Whitney Motorsports team started and parked on a few occasions. During the 2010 Subway Fresh Fit 600, many of the drivers treated the race as test sessions because of the testing ban. These teams treated the race as a four-hour open test sessions, with the drivers taking a few laps, returning to the garage, making adjustments, and then returning to the track for a few more laps. The only regular start-and-park teams that stayed in the race were Terry Cook's Whitney Motorsports car and Scott Riggs from Keyed-Up Motorsports, Riggs was taking over Casey Mears as he was standing by Denny Hamlin to take over if needed. He drove with only team decals and an associate sponsor in his car, and stood out until blowing a tire with only a few laps left in the race, and ran on the lead lap for the entire race to that point.[clarification needed]
At the 2010 Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400 at Michigan International Speedway, J. J. Yeley and Max Papis parked with full sponsors. The following race, several teams acquired sponsors and ran the whole race, leaving only one driver parking in the race (P. J. Jones).[clarification needed]
During the first twelve races of the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, Dave Blaney earned over $1.1 million after completing only two of the races and 21% of all possible laps. At the 2009 Texas IndyCar weekend Camping World Truck Series race, 10 of the 33 entrants parked their truck by the end of Lap 26.
In some short tracks, a team that may have one car and crash it in a previous week, but need to simply start a race for points purposes, will borrow another team's backup car and start and park to preserve points.
Critics have said that start and park teams take spots away from teams who intend to run the full race, especially since the all-exempt tour format was adopted in 2005.
At the 2009 NASCAR Banking 500 only from Bank of America at Lowe's, only Joe Nemechek parked, the fewest all season in which drivers who parked; four other start-and-park teams failed to qualify. The following race at Martinsville Speedway, six cars parked. During the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway, ThorSport Racing entered a third truck (#98) which was driven by David Gilliland who qualified fifth, and fell out of the race in less than five laps and finished 35th, mainly due to without sponsorships, thus a start and park situation.
Start and parks are generally not feasible for the Daytona 500, because teams must qualify by racing a 150-mile race on Thursday with one pit stop, and then run the 500-mile race on Sunday, unless the car was among the fastest in the qualifying heats the previous weekend. That race was the only one with no start and parks. Such teams attempt to run the full race regardless, as drivers who compete at the Daytona 500 will take home about $250,000 for finishing in the back. There were two teams, however, which were start and parks at the 2010 Gatorade Duels; NEMCO Motorsports' #97 car of Jeff Fuller (Duel 1) and Latitude 43 Motorsports' #26 car of Boris Said (Duel 2) were start and parks in the Duels. The Latitude 43 Motorsports team was an exempt team and qualified (the cars were acquired from Roush-Fenway Racing under NASCAR's four cars per team limit), and the team did not start and park for the feature. Said parked because that was the only race car that the team had.
On Saturday, March 19, 2011, during the NASCAR Nationwide race at Bristol Motor Speedway, driver Jennifer Jo Cobb refused to start and walked away from the #79 2nd Chance Motorsports car when she allegedly was instructed less than ten minutes prior to the race by car owner Rick Russell to start and park rather than race to completion. Russell's argument was that their secondary car was heavily damaged the previous week at Las Vegas. Cobb said that she had agreed to race carefully to completion to preserve the car for later California racing, but objected to Russell telling her to start and park, especially in light of her racing contract that provided she paid for tires and engines. Cobb is the first driver to publicly refuse to start a race when instructed to start and park.
For 2012, the only start and park cars in the Sprint Cup were the 87 run by Joe Nemechek, which is used to fund his Nationwide Series operation that runs full races, the #30 of Inception Motorsports, the 19 driven by Mike Bliss and later in the season ran the #91 as another start and park entry. The #98 owned by Phil Parsons. The Nationwide Series has the highest number of start and parks, with The Motorsport Group's 3 entries (42, 46, 47) to fund the 40, TriStar Motorsports #10 team that supports the mostly unsponsored 44 driven by Mike Bliss, Rick Ware ran the #71 and #75 Chevy cars as start and parks. The #15 sometimes parked. As of 2013, NEMCO Motorsports has no plans of starting and parking in Sprint Cup or Nationwide, along with Swan Racing (formerly Inception Motorsports), although the former has still start and parked on occasion, especially late in the season. This also includes Germain Racing and driver Casey Mears who start and parked when GEICO wasn't sponsoring them. Also in 2013 in the Nationwide Series, TriStar's #10 is still a start and park, and TMG is still running the #42, #46 and #47 as start and parks. Most weeks, the only two cars starting and parking are the #98 Phil Parsons Racing Ford driven by Michael McDowell, and the #19 Humphrey Smith Motorsports Toyota driven by Mike Bliss; however when the #95 Leavine Family Racing Ford driven by Scott Speed enters, they normally start and park. The #35 Front Row Motorsports Ford also occasionally starts and parks, as do the #33 and #40 of Circle Sport; the team runs full races with Landon Cassill but sometimes starts and parks with Tony Raines (but Circle Sport is often one car, just the #40, when Richard Childress uses the #33 for a fourth car, so they are a satellite). In 2014, the number of start and parks in the Sprint Cup Series significantly decreased, with many former start and park teams such as Phil Parsons Racing and Leavine Family Racing (now a Team Penske satellite that often tests and runs experimental equipment for the works team) attempting full races. There are no longer any full-time start and park teams at the Cup level, though the Identity Ventures Racing #87 Toyota and the BK Racing #93 Toyota have started and parked in their few starts in 2014. The Randy Humphrey Racing #77 Ford driven by Dave Blaney has occasionally start and parked as well, but the team usually attempts the full race.
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