NASCAR

Questions arise over start-and-park cars

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Lee Spencer

Lee Spencer is the Senior NASCAR Writer for FOXSports.com. She has provided award-winning coverage of auto racing over the last 15 years. Spencer has lent her expertise to both television and radio and is a regular contributor to SiriusXM Radio and the Performance Racing Network. Follow her on Twitter.

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FONTANA, Calif.

When Dave Blaney headed to the garage in his No. 66 Prism Motorsports Toyota after 43 laps, NASCAR officials were waiting.

Three laps earlier, Michael McDowell drove the other Prism Motorsports car to the garage. The final race report concluded that both cars had engine failures.

So why did the sanctioning body confiscate the No. 66 car before the engine had even cooled down?

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“Because they can,” said Bill Henderson, crew chief of the No. 66 team and general manager for Prism Motorsports.

Henderson, who has just two cars for the team, was told the car will not be returned until next Saturday — long after qualifying is over. However, the primary car has the basics of racing — swaybar, shocks and springs — that the team simply can’t afford to duplicate on the backup car. Without those necessities, Henderson will not be able to race.

Sprint Cup Series director John Darby said he hopes to perform the inspection at Las Vegas in order to return the car to the team in a timely fashion, but that’s hardly a guarantee

Which begs the question: Is NASCAR attempting to send the message to “start and park” teams — those that enter a race primarily to collect a check and don't always try to finish — not to stink up their show?

Prism Motorsports wasn’t the only team that ended its day prematurely Sunday at Fontana.

Joe Nemechek initially parked his car on Lap 27 then mysteriously returned to the track a short time later and ran an additional 27 laps before a "rear gear" failed.

Boris Said also went into the garage early, came back out, and then disappeared.

Even Aric Almirola, who was driving the No. 09 Phoenix Racing entry that won at Talladega last year, ended up in the garage after 34 laps with an engine failure.

But Prism might be in a different situation.

“It’s one thing to try to race each week,” said the manager of a team that generally finishes among the 40-somethings who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “But I think doing two (teams) to get a check isn’t going to sit very well with NASCAR.”

Prism Motorsports pocketed $160,070 for Sunday’s combined effort of 83 laps. Matt Kenseth, who finished seventh, ran the full 500 miles and earned a $161,696 pay day.

Darby said choosing the No. 66 Toyota as “the random” car was part of “the normal inspection procedure. That particular car stood out given that Blaney qualified fifth and led three laps.

“The ‘randomness’ of inspection covers everyone in the field,” Darby said. “The 66 was a car that was very competitive. Yes, he was outside of the top 35, but he was the fastest of the group. He was fifth overall qualifying and he led the race today.

“We’ve got to make sure that as we fulfill our responsibility to our competitors to make sure that everyone is playing with the same rulebook and adhering to the same rules — and that means everybody. That car deserves a look at to make sure it’s up to start.”

Darby said the sanctioning body cannot try to “outguess the teams” to determine who the start-and-park cars are every weekend.

“You don’t know what their plans are,” Darby said. “Sometimes that might be 50 laps. Some races it might be the whole race and running a top 10. You don’t know. It’s no different than a top 35 car that blows up on Lap 2 and comes into the garage. You just don’t know those things so you apply the policies and procedures as evenly as you can to everybody in the garage.”

Henderson said if Prism Motorsports could secure sponsorship for the entire season, the teams would run every lap of every race. At Daytona, Prism attempted to qualify both cars with Blaney in the No. 66 Toyota, but only McDowell in the No. 55 made the cut. The team ran 195 of the advertised 200 laps until a driveshaft broke in the car. McDowell finished 33rd and the team earned $267,495 for their effort — enough to continue to California and Las Vegas.

“We prepared ourselves all winter to race,” Henderson said. “We do everything we can to go as far as we can each week. You can’t do this out of your own pocket or you’d go broke.

“Dave did an awesome job for us this weekend. Yes, he deserves better than what we’re able to give him. I just hope we’re able to continue next weekend. If I don’t have the parts, I’ll see what I’m able to buy and what I have to whittle out of wood.”
Tagged: Matt Kenseth, Reed Sorenson, Dave Blaney, Aric Almirola, Joe Nemechek, Boris Said, Michael McDowell

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