Rookie Stripe: Driving with Digits -- Why Do Race Cars Have Numbers?

Credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs  

Can I have your number? Not so fast.

Numbers are a big deal in NASCAR, and at a race one of the predominant places you’ll see them is on the race cars. Paint schemes, sponsors and colors may change week to week, but each driver still has the same number visible on both sides of the vehicle.

So how do numbers figure into the grand scheme of a race? Let’s count the ways.

NASCAR “owns” all numbers in its Sprint Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series, meaning that teams must request car numbers, which are then assigned to drivers. As the governing body of the sport, NASCAR has the right to license numbers to teams on a yearly basis and can transfer numbers at any time.1  While a team or driver is never guaranteed a certain number, they may request it, and teams typically keep the same numbers from year to year. If a team has to let go of a number if they drop from a four-car to a three-car team, then the number goes back to NASCAR.

It’s important to point out that people -- fans and media -- discuss driver names and car numbers interchangeably at a race. Because of the constantly-changing positions during a race, it’s often easier for announcers to simply refer to drivers by their number, saying something like, “The No. 4 car has taken the lead.” On the scoring pylon, current track position is indicated by car number rather than driver name.

Credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs 
Even though it may seem odd, numbers get a lot of love in NASCAR and there is a certain affinity among most fans for their favorite driver number(s.) The synonymic nature of repeatedly identifying drivers by number almost metamorphoses into an affection for the numerals themselves. 

Car digits are all over the place at races and you’ll see that passion evidenced by the abundance of numbered t-shirts, flags and other paraphernalia.

Sometimes there's a reason for a car number, such as Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 car, which is rooted in family history. His grandfather Ralph Earnhardt drove the "Oldsmobile 88" for Petty Enterprises in the 1957 Virginia 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Joe Gibbs Racing chose the No. 18 in 1992 because Dale Jarrett used it during his 1987 first full Cup season.3

As NASCAR itself says, numbers help define NASCAR. Most stock car numbers have a similarly rich history, and much of that can be found in detail online.

Credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs
Back in the early days of racing, there were actually some three-digit numbers. According to the Pocono Record two-time Sprint Cup winner Tim Flock won 21 races, Dick Rathmann won 10 races, Buck Baker won 11 races and Speedy Thompson won eight races – all in triple-digit cars. In modern day racing however NASCAR requires two-digit numbers that allow for easier viewing by the spotters, as well as posting updates to the scoring tower.3

Find a full list of driver numbers for the 2015 Sprint Cup season at

 (“NASCAR by the Numbers.” 5 Jan. 2015. Web. 26 May 2015)
 (History of the No. 88 in NASCAR.” 19 Sept. 2007. Web. 26 May 2015)
3 (Miegoc, Joe. "NASCAR: The Story behind the Car Numbers." 5 June 2009. Web. 26 May 2015.)
Rookie Stripe: Driving with Digits -- Why Do Race Cars Have Numbers? Rookie Stripe: Driving with Digits -- Why Do Race Cars Have Numbers? Reviewed by Logan Stewart on Wednesday, May 27, 2015 Rating: 5