Political no-no for Parsons

Money is the driving force in auto racing. Without major sponsorship, owners couldn’t afford to put their cars on the track.

Phil Parsons Racing is an independent team looking for every dollar. The team had financial backing from the Florida gubernatorial campaign of Charlie Crist at Daytona this weekend. Parsons had a “Charlie Crist for Florida” paint scheme on the hood of its No. 98 Ford for the Coke Zero 400.

The Florida Republican Party filed a complaint with the state elections committee questioning the legality of the Crist logo, saying its value on a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car hood violated the allowable $3,000 contribution. The Crist campaign told The Miami Herald that because a political committee separate from the campaign donated the money – and the word “governor” wasn’t used – there was no issue. Crist is a Democrat vying to unseat Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

To calm the political waters, Parsons removed the logo from the hood and ran a tribute to Richard Petty’s historic 200th win at this race 30 years ago.

Parsons, however, said the decision to replace the paint scheme was in deference to his partner Mike Curb, a former California Republican lieutenant governor, and the Petty tribute was the perfect idea considering Curb owned the car Petty drove to the 200th victory on July 4, 1984.

“I was totally surprised and shocked that there was such a firestorm,” Parsons said Friday. “It wasn’t a political statement on our behalf, we’re just trying to keep the doors open and race.

“One of our biggest supporters since we started this team is Mike Curb, and he’s been a staunch Republican, he was just uncomfortable being in the middle of this firestorm, even though he had nothing to do with it. So out of respect to him, we decided to take the Crist stickers off.”

* Restrictor Plate Qualifying: NASCAR executive Robin Pemberton said rules could be tweaked to prevent teams from trying to scheme ways to post the fastest laps during the three knockout stages of qualifying at restrictor plate tracks.

“I think we’ll learn from all of this moving forward and continue to talk and see if there’s anything that we need to look at to try to make things better for the fans and better for the competitors,” said Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president of competition. “All in all, it’s been a great year for qualifying and it’s been a great year for a lot of different rule changes that we put into play this year.

“We’ll sit down and we’ll talk about some of these things toward the latter stages of the year and see what we may rub on and do a little changing or some things like that.”

NASCAR’s new qualifying rules package was used for the first time at Daytona in the Sprint Cup Series on Friday, and it produced some head-scratching moments as groups of cars slowed to a crawl around the 2 1/2-mile superspeedway. The small packs – most of them formed by teammates – were hoping to pull behind bigger groups and draft behind them to produce fast laps. But no one was eager to lead the way, especially not in a huge cluster of cars.

Driver reaction was mostly negative, with pole-sitter David Gilliland dubbing it “uncontrolled chaos” and defending Daytona 500 champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. calling it “a mess” and “the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.”

It was relatively risky, too. Several cars turned down pit road to elude the disorder. But the most common concern was the speed differences, with some drafting partners creeping along while others ran full speed.

NASCAR could conceivably change the qualifying rules before the Oct. 19 race at Talladega.

Contact Eddie Thomas at ethomas@newsandsentinel.com