Herald Journal Columns
April 24, 2006, Herald Journal / Enterprise Dispatch

NASCAR needs a ‘Move it, or lose it’ rule

By Matt Kane

Interest in auto racing is at an all time high thanks to the punch you in the face promoting NASCAR has done over the past half decade.

It seems anywhere you go on a Sunday there are colorful caps and T-shirts with names, numbers and faces of favorite drivers. Even the least interested race fan wants to know where Junior finished or whether anyone ran Kurt Busch off the track yet.

Names like Earnhardt, Stewart, Gordon, Johnson and even Busch get the most press, as they should, at the track and in millions of living rooms around the world.

Being young and handsome — in the eyes of the female fans — certainly helps the marketability of these drivers, but they also help themselves by winning races and constantly finishing in the upper half of the final standings.

All five of the aforementioned racers finished in the top 20 a season ago in the final standings, and all were in the top six at the end of 2004.

There is little doubt that race fans will see these five and the likes of Ryan Newman, Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne and Kevin Harvick taking left turns for years and decades to come, and I welcome that.

But, for some of the other drivers, I wouldn’t mind seeing much less of them.

There is a group of drivers that seem to be just hanging around Nextel Cup and, literally, getting in the way of drivers who actually have a legit chance of winning a race.

The name at the top of the list is Kyle Petty.

In watching the leader stripe scroll by at the top of the television screen, when is the last time you have seen Petty lower than 20th at the end of a race?

OK, so he had an eighth place finish March 20 of this year at the Golden Coral 400 in Atlanta, and he had two top-10s a year ago, but his consistency is in running at the bottom of the pack. He is currently 32nd in points and has not finished in the top 15 in points since 1997, when he was 15th. In the eight full seasons that have run since then, Petty’s best finish was 22nd in 2002. He finished 43rd, 22nd, 37th, 33rd and 27th, respectively, from 2001-05.

Petty has a total of eight career wins on the Nextel Cup (Winston Cup) circuit dating back to 1986, but his last came in 1995. Since then, he has finished in the top five of a race four times, three coming in the 1997 season.

I don’t want to pick on Petty, he’s one of the nicer guys in racing, but NASCAR needs to incorporate a rule that weeds out the weaker drivers or teams in order to vacate a spot for younger drivers.

If a driver goes three straight races finishing 30th or worse, his team needs to sit out the next race. After sitting out one race, the team is again eligible for the next race, but, as with every other car, must qualify.

I call it the “Move it, or lose it” rule.

I understand that where a driver finishes depends a lot on the financial backing he has. The big race teams like Rausch Racing, DEI and Hendrick Motorsports tend to finish at the front of the pack more often than the smaller, one-car teams. But what is Petty’s excuse? His team is owned by Petty Racing and he has 2000 Nextel Cup champion Bobby Labonte as a teammate. You would think a race team named for NASCAR’s all time wins leader, Richard Petty, could find enough financial backing to hire a staff that can produce a team that runs closer to the checkered flag.

The other driver that needs to “Move it, or lose it” is Jeff Green.

Green had four top five finishes in 2002, his first full season in a Nextel Cup car, and finished 17th in points. But, after starting from the pole at the 2003 Daytona 500, Green has two top-10 finishes in 139 races leading into this season, and hasn’t finished better than 29th in the point standings.

Green sat 26th in points leading into the April 23 race in Phoenix. His best finish was a 15th at Bristol. That Bristol finish saves him for now, but keep driving at a mediocre pace and I say, “Move it, or lose it,” Jeff.


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