The NASCAR Cup Series will break the 27-year dry spell of racing at North Wilkesboro Speedway with this Sunday’s NASCAR All-Star Race.
Since then, a lot has changed.
In 1996, 17 different organizations made up the top 21 teams in Cup Series points. In contrast, 16 organizations make up the entire 36 full-time Cup teams – and 10 of those make up the top 21 in points.
Only five of those teams are still around under the same ownership: Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 5 and 24 teams, Richard Childress Racing’s No. 3 team, Team Penske’s No. 2 team and Wood Brothers Racing’s No. 21 team.
Since then, only the No. 24 and No. 2 teams have continuously run full-time. The No. 5 wasn’t on track from 2018-20 and the No. 3 wasn’t on track from 2002-13. The No. 21 also went part-time in the late-2000s and early-2010s.
Jack Roush still owns the No. 6 team but it’s now co-owned by Brad Keselowski and Fenway Sports Group. Richard Petty also owns the No. 43 team but Petty Enterprises folded after 2008.
Since then, the No. 43 have had these co-owners at one point or another: George Gillette, Andrew Murstein, Maury Gallagher and Jimmie Johnson
The field has also gotten younger. In 1996, the average age of the top 21 in point is 38 years old. In 2023, it is 32 years old.
All of the top 5 in points in 1996 are in the NASCAR Hall of Fame: Jeff Gordon, Terry Labonte, Dale Jarrett, Dale Earnhardt, Mark Martin. Rusty Wallace in 9th and Bobby Labonte are also in the Hall of Fame.
Gordon, Labonte, Jarrett, Earnhardt, Martin and Wallace are also among the 50 Greatest NASCAR Drivers named in 1998. Three others drivers in the top 21 in 1996 also made that list: Geoff Bodine, Ernie Irvan and Ricky Rudd
Seven of the top 21 in points in 2023 made NASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers list: Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski
In 2023, there are six champions – with eight total championships – and 20 winners in the top 21 in points. In 1996, there were only three champions – with nine total championships – and 14 winners in the top 21 in points.
These race weekends are still within two weeks of where they were on the 1996 schedule:
Daytona 500, Atlanta I, Bristol I, Martinsville I, Talladega I, Coca-Cola 600, Loudon July, Pocono July, Indianapolis, Watkins Glen, Southern 500, Charlotte II, Phoenix Fall
Only the Daytona 500, the Coke 600, Loudon July, Southern 500 and Charlotte II are on the same weekend in 2023 as they were in 1996.
Among those, only the Coke 600 has kept the same race on the same weekend every year since 1996. Here is what has happened to the others:
Daytona 500: Shifted away from President’s Day weekend from 2012-17
Southern 500: Lost Labor Day weekend date from 2004-14
Loudon July: Shifted away from mid-July weekend from 2007-10
Charlotte II became a road course race