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NASCAR observations while waiting for new season

by Dave Grayson
Friday, February 3, 2012


As I wait for the green flag to signify the official start of Speed Weeks 2012 at Daytona, I seem to be spending the off season time collecting NASCAR news items while pondering my opinions on their content. It occurred to me that I should share some of them with my racing buddies.
For approximately seven years now NASCAR has observed the policy of the top 35 in their owner's points. This policy states that any team within the top 35 is automatically guaranteed a start in the next race on the schedule. At present the points in the top 35 from the 2011 season will be in effect for the first five races of 2012. Beginning with race number six, the accumulated points from the first five events of this year will take effect.
There's also a policy that states these owner points can be bought, sold or traded as if they were commodities on the New York Stock Exchange. The criteria includes some sort of business or technical alliance between two teams involved in the deal along with the approval of the exchange by NASCAR officials.
This policy made NASCAR headlines last Tuesday following an announcement of a technical alliance between Stewart-Haas Racing, (SHR), and Tommy Baldwin Racing, (TBR). The owners points from TBR's #36, accumulated by driver Dave Blaney last year, will be transferred to SHR's #10 driven by Danica Patrick. Essentially this means Patrick is automatically locked into the field for this year's Daytona 500.
Patrick will be entered in ten Sprint Cup races this year in preparation for a full time stint in the series in 2013. TBR's #36 will be changed to #10 for this season. When Patrick is not racing the #10 SHR Chevrolet, driver David Reutimann will be in the #10 TBR Chevrolet for the remaining 26 races on the schedule. If both drivers compile a series of decent finishes, it could mean that Patrick will have a guaranteed start in all ten of her scheduled events. The value of that Sprint Cup seat time is vital to her cause.
In exchange, TBR will receive technical support from SHR at a level that normally would not have been available to them. SHR will also provide pit crew service for the races when Reutimann is driving.
Let's be completely fair here. Neither of these teams did anything wrong. The terms of their alliance is well within the guidelines of the owner's points policy. These terms were subsequently thoroughly reviewed and given a stamp of approval by NASCAR. This technical alliance is clearly a win-win situation for both racing organizations.
Despite that, there has been an immense criticism of this policy for several years now. the nay sayers state that starting positions in a 43 car Sprint Cup field should be solely based on posted speeds during qualifying. There should not be any owner's points guarantees and those points should absolutely not be allowed to be traded like a stock commodity.
These points swaps have been going on for quite a long time now and often seem to manifest themselves around this time of the year prior to the Daytona 500. That's actually understandable. After all, this year's Daytona 500 has a record setting total purse of $19,142,601. The guaranteed minimum for the race winner is $1,431,325. In the 2011 final results of the great American race the team that finished 43d earned $268,550 after only running ten laps. In short: you do what you have to do to make this race. 
The critic's view is also understandable: a team is either fast enough to make the field on qualifying day or you go home early. That's racing. It seems logical that everyone, from NASCAR executives to the fans, would hate the thought of a major Sprint Cup super star not making the starting field. But the fact is: with or without that super star, the fans will gather in the stands on race day, the green flag will wave over the 43 cars and we'll all enjoy the race.
The time to terminate this guarantee is now past due.   
Last Wednesday NASCAR conducted a closed test of all four of their 2013 race car models at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. Because it was a closed session, no results, such as speed charts, were disclosed. Next in this process will be an aero match in the wind tunnel at the NASCAR Research and Development Center.
Drivers participating in this test included Kasey Kahne-Chevrolet, Kyle Busch-Toyota, Matt Kenseth-Ford and Sam Hornish Jr-Dodge. How did we find out which drivers participated in this closed test? Needless to say, it was through that social phenomenon known as "Twitter."   
First off, apologies for fracturing the In And Out Hamburger Restaurant's advertising jingle and, no, this item has absolutely nothing to do with either one of the Busch brothers.
Last Thursday morning it was announced that NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Landon Cassill had been named to drive a third entry for Front Row Motorsports in the Daytona 500. The young, up and coming, driver was scheduled to drive the #26 Ford with race sponsorship from Morristown Driver's Service, a Tennessee based trucking firm.
By Thursday afternoon Front Row Motorsports General Manager Jerry Freeze received a telephone call from Cassill who said "he couldn't do it." It seems it was a very informal agreement to begin with. Explaining further, Freeze said: "we gave him an out if he got a full time racing deal, and it sounds like he got one."
There's been no word regarding who Cassill's driving for or who's going to replace him in the Front Row Motorsports #26.
It was very sad to learn of the recent passing of NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Matt Kenseth's mother. Nicola Sue Kenseth passed away January 31st following a brave and lengthy battle with Early Onset Alzheimers Disease. Our sincere condolences goes out to the entire Kenseth family during this truly sad time. 

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