Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Rookie Stripe: Why are there only 40 cars in a race?

Photo credit: Lisa Janine Cloud for Skirts and Scuffs
I’m rarely one to crush a pipe dream, but not everyone can be a NASCAR driver. To make it to the upper tiers of racing, especially the premier Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, drivers must not only be masters of the sport, but they need the financial backing of a team. There’s a reason we tune in so fervently week after week to watch races -- to see a select slice of competition that dials up the intensity because they've earned the right to be in the field.

Which brings me to the word field. In NASCAR it’s an important word that delineates the main show -- the drivers. The challengers who line up to run any given race make up the field.

Photo credit: Lisa Janine Cloud for Skirts and Scuffs
In the early days of NASCAR, anyone could compete, as long as they could afford to. Higher numbers of participants were more common at superspeedways and popular tracks, such as Darlington and Daytona. To make the race more exclusive and standardized, NASCAR eventually moved to a cap of 43 cars in the field based on 36 drivers that qualified during the aptly named “qualifying” rounds. Also allotted were six provisional slots that could be used by other drivers who didn’t necessarily run every race. The 43rd position was for a former NASCAR champion who wanted to race but may not have qualified.

Photo credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
Then 2016 rolled around and NASCAR rolled out the team owner Charter System which shook things up once again. Under the system, 36 Charter teams were chosen from 19 organizations based on NASCAR’s determination of which teams had attempted to qualify in every race for the last three years -- which demonstrated commitment to the sport. Those 36 teams received charters, which they can sell on an open market, and also guaranteed spots in points races. Four non-Charter teams can compete for the remainder of the field, now capped at 40.

I can’t pretend to totally understand NASCAR's entire Charter system (waving my Rookie flag) but this article by ESPN’s Ryan McGee explains some of the more minute details.

But just like those of us who still like to party at 40 years old and beyond, it’s just a number right? Let’s get back to racing.

Who has charters for 2017
Fast facts for NASCAR’s team owner charter system

Photo credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs


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