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A little harder for start and parkers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- More time was spent with a calculator on Tuesday than in four years of college majoring in English as I was trying to figure out exactly how NASCAR's new distribution of money for the last five positions of a Sprint Cup race will discourage start and parkers.

The plan is to pay each position from 39th on back $4,000 less incrementally. In other words, last place will earn $16,000 less than 39th, as opposed to a difference of $1,000 or less as often happened prior to this year.

That sounds like a lot.

A start-and-park team is one that has no intention of running the entire race and is there simply to collect a paycheck. One typically can be identified by not having a full pit crew because there are no plans to make it until the first scheduled round of stops. Those teams typically exit the race and list vibration or some engine issue as the reason for stopping.

Then you consider that $16,000 less over a 36-race schedule amounts to $576,000 less for last place.

That sounds like a lot, too.

Then consider that start-and-park teams earned approximately $17 million in 2012. Subtract $1,440,000 (the total payout difference for the bottom five finishers) from that and you're still left with more than $15 million going to teams that show up just to start a race and collect a paycheck.

That's really a lot.

Cash And Carry

A look at some of the drivers who consistently left Sprint Cup races before completion in 2012.

So while I commend NASCAR for addressing a situation that has frustrated fans, track owners and media for years -- a situation that president Mike Helton referred to as "irritating" on Tuesday -- this is a Band-Aid at best.

"Maybe less than half a Band-Aid," Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman Bruton Smith said as I explained the new payout.

Smith is on a crusade against start and parkers. He called them a joke and an insult to the sport a few weeks ago at the Sprint Media Tour. He demanded that NASCAR do something about it "for the good of the sport."

So did Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage, saying NASCAR "has to close this loophole."

Upon hearing about the new allocation of funds that will give some of the money once paid to start and parkers to the rest of the field, Gossage almost seemed offended.

"That does not close the loophole," he said. "They're [NASCAR] trying to have their cake and eat it, too. This doesn't fix it. It does a little bit, but it doesn't fix it."

The way to fix it is to cut the purse of the last five positions in half, as Smith heard through the grapevine was under consideration. Or better yet, pay little to nothing for the last few spots so it really isn't worth an owner's time to show up.

And if you want to take it a step further, give all the redistributed money to first place. Maybe that will encourage more drivers to race hard for a win instead of settle for second or third.

But let's stick to the issue of start and parkers. In 2012, Joe Nemechek made 31 of 36 races, ran 1,507 of a possible 10,442 laps, and collected more than $2.5 million. Assuming he finished last in every race -- which he didn't -- he still would have collected more than $1.9 million under the new payout.

David Stremme made 28 races last season and collected $2.4 million. He would have collected $1.8 million had he finished last in every race under this distribution plan.

That will eat into the profit.

It won't fix the issue.

The real issue is teams are being paid not to compete. You don't see that in any other sport. It's different from how it was in NASCAR years ago when drivers such as J.D. McDuffie and Jimmy Means at least tried to finish races.

"They just finished several laps down," Gossage said. "It was like a race within a race, but at least it was racing. When you're in the pits five minutes after the green flag falls and you're done, week after week after week, you're not doing anything but lining pockets with money fans are paying."

Before we go any further, NASCAR didn't suddenly come up with the new payout as a kneejerk reaction to what Smith and Gossage said last month. According to team owner Tommy Baldwin, the governing body was discussing this as early as the final race of 2012.

And if you're looking for an argument in favor of start and parkers, Baldwin is a good one.

In 2009, he took advantage of the system to start his own organization. He did it at a time when economic woes forced many teams to downsize, leaving highly qualified mechanics, engineers and crew members on the market at a steal.

Baldwin collected $2,135,737 million among five drivers that season. He collected another $2,159,017 million among eight drivers in 2010.

That allowed him to compete full-time in 2011 with Dave Blaney, who completed 9,400 laps in 34 races to collect more than $3.1 million.

Had it not been for start-and-park money, Baldwin wouldn't be in position to field two cars -- Blaney is almost fully sponsored and J.J. Yeley has almost two-thirds of the season sponsored -- this year.

He's definitely offended by Smith's position that start and parkers are bad for the sport.

"He's kind of like one of those mad politicians who gets pieces of paper handed to him before he speaks," Baldwin said. "He has no idea what he's talking about. He could be part of the solution instead of complaining.

"We tried a couple of times to lay out a plan to get his tracks, his sponsors involved, with our program to make a track-sponsored car to make it a more special event for the sponsor. He didn't want anything to do with it."

Gossage has turned down similar offers. He sarcastically says he plans to run a race one day where he'll only pay start and parkers.

He's also quick to remind that Baldwin received $89,900 for finishing 39th with Blaney in his fall race last season.

To break that down, the bottom five -- Blaney, Nemechek, Mike Bliss, Yeley and Reed Sorenson -- collected a total of $447,911 for running a combined 118 laps of a 335-lap race.

The biggest difference under the new payout is that Sorenson would receive $16,000 less than 39th for finishing last, instead of $339 less, as he did.

"And they were disappointed we didn't put our name on the car," Gossage said, sarcasm still flowing.

It's not the track's responsibility to find sponsorship for owners any more than it is for the owners to find sponsorships for the tracks.

"I admire Tommy for what he's doing," Gossage said. "He wants to go racing. He's trying to. Others are just working the loophole. … If a start and parker brought something to the program, that would be one thing. But when they're in the garage in less than 10 minutes, they're not adding to the competition that is 3½ hours long.

"As long as people are running hard and entertaining people, I'm OK. That's what we're in the market to do."

Reducing the payout by $4,000 per position for five spots won't do much more than enhance the battle for 39th over 43rd. Even Baldwin admits the practice won't end with this tweak.

"It's not what we anticipated," Smith said. "The message was, 'Yeah, we're going to do something, we're going to do something.' But what's done is nothing."

According to my calculator, it's not nothing.

It's also not enough.