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NASCAR points should be earned, not bought

by Dave Grayson
Saturday, January 22, 2011

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Steve Wallace should be smiling
One would think that they should be. They certainly seem to be valuable enough and to acquire owner's points by alternative means, other than actually earning them on the race track, seems to provide some rather lucrative returns.

NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Steve Wallace can testify to that. Wallace will be making his official Sprint Cup Series debut in next month's Daytona 500 driving the #77 Toyota Camry fielded by Rusty Wallace Racing backed with sponsorships from Five Hour Energy Drink and Aspen Dental. He has every right in the world to be excited about his Cup debut. He's also likely feeling an extra sense of security because he has a guaranteed start in the Daytona 500 based on owner's points.

In the world of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing owner's points have over the years evolved into a commodity equally as important as the championship points system. Any team, throughout a season, who is entrenched in the top 35 in owner's points is rewarded with a guaranteed start in their next race. At the end of a season the top 35 teams in the final owner's standings are guaranteed a start in the first five races of the new season that follows.

In the case of Steve Wallace's Sprint Cup debut at Daytona, his guaranteed start in the great American race is courtesy of a business deal recently made between his dad and team owner, Rusty Wallace, and fellow team owner Roger Penske.

It's hardly an industry secret that there's a strong personal and professional bond between the elder Wallace and Penske. That strong bond was likely the catalyst that allowed Rusty Wallace Racing to utilize the outstanding owner's points from Penske seemingly now defunct #77 Sprint Cup team. This was the car driven by Sam Hornish Jr for Penske Racing last year. However, sponsorship issues with the team has left Hornish without a ride and that's why the owner's points were available to begin with. The details of this particular deal were never revealed. It's not known if Penske let Wallace borrow his owner's points just for Daytona or if a large amount of money was exchanged and the points were purchased. At this juncture Rusty Wallace Racing's involvement in Sprint Cup appears to be limited to just the Daytona race and the Cup experience for Steve Wallace.

Swapping and purchasing owner's points is hardly a new concept in Sprint Cup racing. it has, in fact, been a business option for quite a long time now. We shouldn't be just be pinpointing the recent business deal made by Rusty Wallace Racing. There are other teams who will also be taking the green flag at the start of this year's Daytona 500 with a guaranteed starting berth based on acquiring owner's points via an alternative method. Also bear in mind that these deals have to be approved by NASCAR to become official.

In the 2010 season driver Paul Menard was a member of Richard Petty Motorsports and their four car operation. Menard elected to sign with Richard Childress Racing as the driver of that organization's brand new fourth team. Meanwhile Richard Petty Motorsports, now under new ownership and management, elected to trim their operation to a two car team for this year. That move allowed Childress to acquire the owner's points from RPM's former #98 team, driven by Menard last year, and apply them to his brand new #27 team. It also means Menard has a guaranteed start in the first five races of this year despite the fact that he's driving for a new team that has yet to run their first official race.

RPM owner's points from their former #19 team, with driver Elliot Sadler, were also available. That commodity was acquired by Wood Brothers Racing and transferred to their #21 team. That means their new driver for 2011, Trevor Bayne, also has a guaranteed start for the Daytona 500 as well as the four races that follows it.

During the 2010 season Front Row Motorsports ran a three car operation. Two of their teams, the #34 and #37, finished the season within the top 35 in owner's points. The third team, the #38 driven by David Gilliland, just barely missed the cut off. Heading into the 2011 season Front Row Motorsports has decided to campaign their #34 and #38 teams full time with full sponsorship packages. The #37 car will make part time appearances pending sponsor availability. The owner's points from the #37 will be transferred to the #38 and that means Gilliland will not have to worry about qualifying for the first five races of the new year.

However you really can't blame NASCAR team owners for their willingness to pull out all of the stops to insure their cars are among the 43 starters for the Daytona 500. It is, after all, one of the most prestigious and lucrative annual motorsports events in the world. Last year's race winner, Jamie McMurray, collected a whopping $1,508,449. At the bottom of the results page driver/owner Joe Nemechek, who ran 64 laps in the 2010 event, earned $261,424. With those type of raw numbers on the line it's perfectly understandable why any team owner would be willing to buy points from another team to make the starting field of the Daytona 500.

But it doesn't mean it's right. The bottom line of any form of auto racing should be, and must be, based on the track performance of the drivers and their cars. The right to start these races should be earned on qualifying day. It's very simple: a car and driver is either fast enough to earn their starting berths or they face the possibility of loading their cars into the haulers and going home early. There has been too many examples in recent years of a team whose qualifying efforts were fast enough to make the field only to find themselves getting bumped from the starting grid by a team who has a guarantee based on owner's points.

At this juncture in time, NASCAR officials are looking at their Sprint Cup Series to determine if there's any way to make something good even better. There are already reports regarding possible modifications to the series' championship points and the Chase format. Over the past several weeks there has been strong indications that NASCAR has been very receptive to input on these topics from team owners, drivers and even their fans.

Perhaps now is the time to examine whether or not the policy regarding the top 35 in owner's points, and the guaranteed race starts that comes with it, has finally outlived its original intent. This is absolutely the time to examine the alternative means of acquiring owner's points.

Owner's points should be earned on the race track. They should not become available via a trade or a purchase like a commodity on the New York Stock Exchange.

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