Teams start and park for the money
Walk down pit road a few minutes before the green flag dropped on Saturday night's NASCAR Sprint Cup Coke Zero 400, and it was easy to tell which of the 43 teams have no intention of running the whole 400 miles.
In the pit stall, those teams — called "start and parkers" — have a small rolling tool chest, two or three crewmen, and here's the guaranteed tipoff: Teams that hope to run the whole race have glued lug nuts onto the wheels of the spare tires, which makes it easier and quicker to change the tires during pit stops.
Start-and-parkers don't plan to change tires, so they don't glue the lug nuts onto the wheels.
There are three such teams here: The No. 36 Toyota driven by Patrick Carpentier and owned by Tommy Baldwin Jr.; the No. 87 NEMCO Toyota driven and owned by Joe Nemecheck; and — the king of the start-and-parkers — the No. 66 Prism Motorsports Toyota, with driver Dave Blaney, owned by Phil Parsons, the former racer and current TV broadcaster.
So what's the point? Money, of course.
Though attendance, TV ratings and sponsorship have declined for NASCAR Sprint Cup races, the purses haven't. Coming into the race at Daytona, Blaney and his team have won $1,075,259. The car has started 14 of the 17 races this year, and his average finish is 40.6, out of 43 cars.
Reasons for dropping out: Vibration, or overheating, or rear end, or brakes, steering, electrical, engine.
But the one race Blaney and his team finished shows that running the whole race may not be the smart thing to do financially. Blaney finished 28th in the Coca-Cola 600, ran 226 of the 227 laps, and won $91,175. At the Toyota/Save Mart 350, Blaney ran only three laps but won $72,150.
By pulling out that early, you save money on tires, fuel, crew — salaries and transportation — and the car is in good shape for the next race. Tires alone are a huge expense.
Blaney was the first car out in the Coke Zero 400 Saturday night, running only two laps, using only four tires and a few gallons of fuel. Most of the teams that ran the whole race used 36 tires, the maximum allotted by Goodyear. In addition, teams typically have to set their cars up one way to qualify, and a different way for the race. Start-and-parkers need only concern themselves with qualifying.
So Blaney pulled out after two laps, Carpentier after 18, Nemechek after 25. Orlando Sentinel