START AND PARK TEAMS PROVE COSTLY FOR JOANIDES
(10-24-09) Nick Joanides had high hopes to make his Nationwide series debut at Memphis Motorsports Park, but Nascar's qualifying procedure of locking in the top 35 teams in the point standings proved costly.
Joanides was driving the number 31 for Rick Ware Racing, a team that itself has been a "start and park" team on occasion due to the lack of funding. The majority of the season, the Nationwide series has seen fields between 43 and 46 cars for 43 starting spots, meaning only one to three cars would not make the field. Memphis however, being a stand alone event drew several more teams. 51 cars showed up to qualify for 43 spots.
The Rick Ware Racing team has struggled at times this season, while showing strength at others. For this race, the team had championship winning crew chief Paul Andrews in charge with an engine from Earnhardt/Childress racing giving the team added hope.
The weekend got off to a rough start as Nascar would not allow Joanides into the track. At the Nationwide level, all licensed members for the Trucks, Nationwide or Cup series are required to have a drug test before being allowed to purchase a license, a fact that was never relayed to Joanides. He spent the week on the phone attempting to dot his I's and cross his T's and make sure he had everything in order to compete. He had to run out and take a last minute physical and send it to Nascar the day before he left for Memphis. He also had to submit a resume for approval. Following the physical, he was informed that he was "good to go" and Nascar indicated they had all they needed from him.
After waiting outside for nearly 3 hours, Nascar sent him on a 2 hour trip to a local drug testing facility just outside of Memphis. He arrived back at the track just before the start of practice and was finally allowed into the track.
The first run on the track led to fear that there was a lot of work to do to be able to make the race as Joanides was more than a full second off of the fastest time. Nick quickly adapted to the track and the Nationwide series car, but the car was just way to tight and would not roll the center of the corner. Paul Andrews made several changes to the car and they did pick up four tenths of a second, but that was still only good enough for 47th on the speed chart at the end of the first session.
The team made several spring, shock, swaybar, track bar and a host of other changes between sessions. The changes finally began to show signs of improvement as Nick moved up to 26th on the speed chart while still on old tires. His times were consistently faster than the top 10 drivers on tires with the same number of laps. Nicks times however were a full 1.2 seconds faster than where they started, but more importantly, he was 4th fastest of the "go or go home" cars, which are those that are not among the top 35 in points. There were 21 cars that had to qualify on time, so even though he dropped to 33rd fast in the final running order after many teams did go out for a mock qualifying run on new tires, they felt really good about their chances for making the race.
Qualifying was Saturday morning and the temperature was a crisp 48 degrees. As cars began to qualify, the team became more excited as all but four other teams had posted laps around two tenths of second slower in qualifying than they did in the previous days practice session. Nick was finally up and laid down that they felt was a great lap at 23.4 seconds, which was nearly two tenths quicker than what they ran the previous day, making him just the fifth car at the time to pick up speed from practice.
It was at that point that they began learning a very painful lesson. Many of the "go or go home" teams were not there to race, just strictly there to qualify for the event and park the car after running only a handful of laps. A common practice in today's economy where teams are taking advantage of the lower car counts in Nascar to collect a sizable purse check. The problem was that this event was an impound race, meaning you had to qualify with your race set up as no changes could be made after qualifying and before the race. Nick and his team worked strictly on race set up in practice and felt very positive based on their lap times on old tires compared to the top teams.
After Nick's lap, it appeared he would be safely in the field as he was fourth fastest of the go or go home cars, but then the "start and park" teams were up to qualify. Joanides wasn't really worried about them as he was significantly faster in practice than the cars left to qualify. All of sudden however, these teams were going out there and blistering off lap times nearly a half a second faster and knocking Nick out of the field.
Stunned at what had happened, Nick began inquiring as to how these teams could pick up so much speed compared to the rest of the field when even the premier teams had slowed down from the day before. That's when he discovered that a whopping eleven teams were not there to race, they were there to start and park and collect the check. To accomplish that, those teams put full blown qualifying setups in the car that are designed to run no more than a handful of laps, but do gain between five and eight tenths of a second in time. They just cant race on these types of setups as the oils have been drained, accessory belts removed, shocks, springs, gears changed, etc. But that is not of importance to those teams as they are not racing. This proved very costly to the remaining teams that were actually there to run the entire race. So while Joanides was one of only five cars that were there to race to actually pick up speed from the day before and beat 19 other cars in qualifying, because the "start and park" teams occupied 11 of the 13 spots available to the teams not locked in the field, Joanides was on the trailer and on his way home.
Joanides said afterward "It's extremely disappointing, the team did a great job to pick up almost a second and a half only for us to go home because of a goofy qualifying procedure. I knew there were start and park teams, but we never imagined there were so many that would pull that kind of crap. Since most of the Nationwide races are impound races, it really makes it difficult for teams that actually want to race and build their programs when you have 10 teams showing up just to snag a check from Nascar and not race. It sucks, but I had a great time working with the team and I was amazed at how easy it was to communicate with Paul Andrews and the fact that we were able to gain so much speed in just two practice sessions and more importantly for me as a driver, it was cool for me to be able to have the opportunity to prove to myself as well as such a prolific crew chief like Paul that I do have the talent to compete at this level. But with a team that is not locked into the field, the odds are really stacked against you".