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Starting grid deals spark review

NASCAR has admitted that it's looking at possibly revising the complex rules surrounding guaranteed race starts based on car owner points.
NASCAR's rules about car owner points start from a very clear and simple position: points are not there to be sold from one team like some sort of commercial asset, so it can't happen. End of story.

"We don't allow point selling. That's been our philosophy," agreed NASCAR Senior Vice President Steve O'Donnell at Daytona. "Are there some grey areas? There certainly are."

Those points do have indisputable value, since being in the top 35 of the owners points guarantees a start in the next Cup race, with the points from 2011 carrying over to determine the guaranteed starting positions for the first five races of 2012. That's assures the sort of television exposure that companies commit their millions of dollars of sponsorship to get. Certainly when it comes to fielding high profile drivers like Danica Patrick, teams are prepared to do anything they can get away with to lock in a spot on the grid and not rely on the lottery of qualifying speeds.

"The balance for us is when you look at the top-35 rule, that's hugely important to the owners," said O'Donnell. "We've got to have healthy car owners out there." He pointed to how points and ownership deals had proved crucial to keeping Richard Petty's teams above water in recent years.

The key loophole that is being increasingly exploited is over what happens to the owner points if a team is sold or changes ownership. Under current rules, teams can transfer their accrued points to the new owners - and everyone's starting to get wise to how to exploit this.

That's why over the close-season, Stewart-Haas Racing essentially handed over the ownership of Danica's #10 car to Tommy Baldwin Racing, in order that Danica would be locked in to the Daytona 500 thanks to points won for the team last year by Dave Blaney.

Everyone involved was quick to point out that this hadn't been a case of buying and selling points - because that would be wrong. Obviously. "Those points are Tommy Baldwin Racing's, they're not hers," insisted team boss Tommy Baldwin himself. "She's not getting them from anybody - she's driving for Tommy Baldwin Racing."

"It's not a points swap at all," agreed O'Donnell. "It's a driver coming over that's not been different than other drivers in the past ... Tommy Baldwin is the registered owner of that team. It is what it is."

Tony Stewart, when asked about it, seemed determined not to get tarred with any of the fallout from the deal and passed the question off on SHR's vice president Brett Frood instead.




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