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Minter: Money Decides Nationwide Field

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 13 2010
Did money and not speed get Paul Menard into Nationwide race? (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Did money and not speed get Paul Menard into Nationwide race? (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Daytona Beach, Fla. – Qualifying procedures at Daytona International Speedway can be confusing for sure. The line-up for the Daytona 500 is set by a combination of qualifying results, the finishing order of the 150-mile qualifying races, car owner points and past champion provisionals. Even to many veteran observers, the line-up remains a mystery until the sheet is actually printed.

The starting order for today’s Nationwide Series race is even more perplexing. After rain washed out qualifying, the line-up was supposed to be set by a combination of car owner points from the previous season, provisions for past race winners and series champions, with the final spots going to the teams that drew high numbers for the qualifying order.

But as it turned out, the bottom of the order was determined not so much by luck as by cold hard cash.

Even though the DRIVE4COPD 400 is the junior circuit’s biggest race of the year, five teams at the bottom of the order withdrew from the race, leaving the final starting spot to Paul Menard and his Jack Roush-owned No. 98 Ford,  a team that plans to run the full schedule.

The teams that disappeared from the lineup were the No. 49 of Mark Green, the No. 52 of Donnie Nuenberger, the No. 42 of Parker Kligerman, the No. 96 of Dennis Setzer and the No. 97 of Jeff Fuller.

So why would teams withdraw from their circuit’s premier event so a competitor could enter the race?

Brian Keselowski, who owns one of the cars that withdrew, told a reporter from Frontstretch.com that it’s all about money.

”What they’re willing to offer, I need as much help as I can get to be competitive,” Keselowski told the website. “Be it money, engineering support, whatever, they come around and offer it to people, and that’s their right. I needed some money; with the 10 percent pay cut on the races, it’s looking pretty bleak to try to survive.”

Kligerman told reporters that his team backed out in favor of Menard, with the compensation including help in future races.

The payout for today’s race shows the last-place team earning more than $45,000, so it adds up that some six-figure money changed hands.

But in NASCAR, that’s apparently OK, according to NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston.

“What happened there didn’t involve us,” Poston said, adding that “It’s a pretty unique situation.”

Unfortunately it’s not. Team owners regularly sell the car owner points that guarantee starting spots for races.

For instance, Danica Patrick is safely in today’s race because her JR Motorsports team bought the car owner points from the old No. 11 team that earned them last year. And points selling has been commonplace on the Sprint Cup and Nationwide circuits since the top 35 rule was put in place.

NASCAR may be taking the stance that buying and selling points and starting positions is OK, but it cheapens the sport.

It’s time to ditch the top 35 rule, which would fix part of the problem, and it’s also time to look at a better plan for setting the field when rain falls at the scheduled hour.

For starters, if five teams decided to withdraw from an event, just start the race with five fewer cars.

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 13 2010