Daytona’s 40-car entry list isn’t the end of the world

By John Haverlin

February 10, 2018

NASCAR released the entry list for the 60th annual Daytona 500 Thursday, and stock car racing’s Twittersphere was none too pleased.

That’s because only 40 cars are entered for “The Great American Race”—the smallest entry list in the history of the event.

Is it unusual to have such a short list for a grand spectacle? Yes. But does it mean the sky is falling? No.

Obviously, the charter system is the easy scapegoat for this. Only 36 cars have guaranteed starting positions, and four “open” teams make the field based on qualifying times. Each NASCAR Cup Series race can have a maximum of 40 cars on the grid.

But that’s not such a bad thing. I’d rather have fewer, more competitive cars in the race than 40+ cars with half a dozen that can’t keep up with the draft or even run the whole thing.

To me, that looks bad, and if there’s one thing I hate, it’s the “Start-and-park” debacle that was once a very common practice in NASCAR, especially after the 2008 financial crisis.

Luckily, that era is virtually over — at least in the Cup Series. If less than 40 cars were planning to run the 500, then I’d be worried. That be a sign that things need to rapidly change to make racing more appealing, both economically and recreationally. But we’re not at that point.

When NASCAR implemented the charter system at the beginning of 2016, it knew the field would become smaller. Suddenly, the 36 charter teams had a lot more security, and outsiders wouldn’t have the same benefits.

But the goal was to let full-time teams have more predictable revenues and have an easier time attracting potential sponsors. I think it’s still too soon to pass judgment on the system yet.

Some social media folks say that it’s not worth watching the Duel races next week because there isn’t a race to make the race anymore. Everyone that shows up will be in the 500, and there’s no drama to see which “little team that could” will make the race.

I understand that. However, the Duels do still matter. The top-10 finishers earn points that count toward the championship. That was a new facet NASCAR introduced last year when it created stage racing.

NASCAR still has a tremendous advantage regarding field size. Formula One has only 20 cars while the IndyCar Series has about 22. Just because the field is tightening up doesn’t mean NASCAR is dying or anything. It just means the sanctioning body sees quality as more important than quantity when it comes to race cars.

Take a deep breath. The Duels will still be entertaining. And by the time the command to start engines is given and everyone is giddy with anticipation on Feb. 18, you’ll have forgotten about all of this.

DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

Jeremy Thompson/TRE Kyle Stephens/TRE



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