Team comes first for Kentuckian Green as 'start-and-park' driver in NASCAR

ngray@herald-leader.comJune 26, 2014 

Kentuckian Jeff Green climbed into his car during practice for the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series in June 2007. Green drove for legendary car owner Richard Childress.

JEFF GROSS — Getty Images for NASCAR

Jeff Green was on top of the charts in NASCAR's top series a decade ago, driving for one of the top owners (Richard Childress) and sitting on the pole for the 2003 Daytona 500.

Now, Green is racing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series for TriStar Motorsports, a low-budget team that has been in NASCAR since 2009. His competitive effort on the racetrack has been limited by the directives of owner Mark Smith to park his car a handful of laps into each race, an action termed by fans as a "start-and-park."

A low-budget team will start a race and quickly park its car, even if the car has no problems. The tactic allows teams to enter every race and earn money for participating without fear that the car will be damaged. Most teams that start-and-park cannot afford to repair or replace damaged cars.

"Sometimes it's frustrating," Green, an Owensboro native, said. "To fly 10 hours to do about 15 minutes' worth of driving is frustrating. But we are there to do the job that the team wants to do."

Green has started and parked in 81 of 105 races since 2011. His champion's provisional has allowed Green to guarantee a starting spot when his car cannot make the race on speed.

Smith, TriStar Motorsports' owner, said Green's primary car, the No. 10, is the team's testing car for setups and parks. Starting and parking a car is financially necessary but not optimal, Smith said.

"We don't like the start-and-park image, but that is how we got to three teams," Smith said "The hope is that we will race all next year and hopefully Jeff will get to race. That would make me feel better, to at least let Jeff race and have a little fun for all he has done for TriStar."

Green was one of the premier full-time drivers in the Nationwide Series at the turn of the century. He won 15 races in the series from 1999-2002, winning the 2000 series championship and moving on to Richard Childress Racing's open ride in Sprint Cup (then called Winston Cup) in 2002.

Green made 268 starts in the Cup Series, mostly for RCR and Petty Enterprises in the mid 2000s. He earned four top-15 finishes in 2002, but struggled to find success in the next three seasons. He feuded with RCR teammate Kevin Harvick in 2003 after an incident at Richmond, Va. Green confronted Harvick's crew chief, questioning car owner Richard Childress's loyalty to Green's team. Childress fired Green the next day, and Green was out of NASCAR's top series by the end of 2005.

"I don't know if it's the same in the garage area now, but it seems like everybody (was) out to get your job," he said about his experience in the Sprint Cup Series. "It's not that people were standing in line to take your spot, but it felt that way. You were constantly trying to satisfy everyone you worked for, even the ones who you thought were on your side, especially when there were moments that were bad."

Green was content to take a break from racing altogether in 2006. And he did, staying away from the racetrack for the better part of three years and hunting on land around his new house in Russellville.

He regained his eagerness to return by 2009 and became one of TriStar's three full-time Nationwide drivers in 2011.

Now he returns to Kentucky Speedway, where he raced competitively only once as a full-time Nationwide driver. Green led 48 laps in Kentucky Speedway's first Nationwide race in 2001 before an incident between him and a young driver named Jimmie Johnson took both drivers out of the race.

"Jimmie is one of my closest friends in the garage now," Green said about the now six-time Sprint Cup champion. "He came up to me and spoke to me about the incident afterward, which I respect. We joke about it now and we laugh. I didn't laugh back then, though."

Green comes from a family of drivers; his brothers, Mark and David, were Nationwide Series regulars in the 1990s, with David winning the championship in 1994. Mark is now a crew chief in the K&N East Pro Series, while David recently became a safety inspector with NASCAR.

Like his brothers, he prefers to stay at the track "as long as they'll have me," and his seat at TriStar is his way to do so, even if he has to park his car after the start of the race, as he is slated to on Friday.

"My role's changed," Green said. "I've excelled at a lot of things in my career, and now I just want to be a plus for our race team."

Nick Gray: (859) 231-1330. Twitter: @ngray_63.

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