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04/01 2017

Small field for Monster Energy NASCAR Cup race at Martinsville not a concern for sanctioning body

ENTRY LIST LOWEST FOR A NASCAR CUP RACE SINCE NORTH WILKESBORO IN SEPTEMBER OF 1996

BY:  AL PEARCE

As if sagging attendance, sponsorship concerns, retired superstars, and woeful TV ratings aren’t troubling enough, now there’s this: The 38-car field for Sunday afternoon’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway is the smallest for a NASCAR race since the 37-car field at North Wilkesboro Speedway in September of 1996. That’s a span of 719 races over parts of 22 seasons.

Every Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race between North Wilkesboro in ’96 and this weekend’s event has featured at least 39 cars. During what many consider NASCAR’s “golden age,” at least 40 cars started every event from the 1997 Daytona 500 through the 2016 Daytona 500, a span of 674 races. The 40-or-better streak was broken in the February 2016 race at Atlanta, where 39 cars competed. In this year’s first six races, only the Daytona 500 had a maximum field of 40 cars. Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Fontana had 39, and now Martinsville has 38.

But in NASCAR’s view, a turnout of 36 cars constitutes an “official” full field. That’s because NASCAR has awarded (sold, really) charters to 36 teams that ensure their place somewhere on the grid for every race. Four places are reserved so “open” teams can come in and compete among themselves to get on the grid. Six “open” teams entered this year’s Daytona 500, thus ensuring its 40-car field. Timmy Hill and Corey LaJoie were the only “open” drivers at Martinsville. Earlier this season, Joey Gase, Derrike Cope, D.J. Kennington, Elliott Sadler and Brendan Gaughan also competed as “open” drivers. None came to Martinsville, where qualifying was rained out Friday afternoon.

As far as NASCAR is concerned, the car count issue is no issue at all.

“To us, a 36-car field is considered a full field,” said NASCAR spokesman Matt Humphrey. “We have the ability to run as many as 40 cars, but we consider 36 cars to be a full field. We’re not overly concerned with 38 cars here. We have a full field.”