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  • OOZING OOZING Aug 17, 2010 4:47 AM Flag

    When was the 43 car limit


    A question that often pops up is why 43? What is so special about that number that NASCAR has mandated it as the magic number, the maximum number of drivers that can run each race?
    I recall racing champion Darrell Waltrip tackling that question last year during one of the races. He ended up saying something like 'just because'. As always, DW has his own unique way of answering some questions. However, he's not far from the truth. It was a bit of a coin toss as to how NASCAR came to that number of 43.
    Back in the day, there really wasn't a limit to the number of drivers who could take on a race. Usually, the field was limited more by the track itself than anything else. A track with lots of pit stalls would have up to 80 cars participating. The very famous Daytona track had fifty or so in the field. Then there were smaller tracks that meant only 30 or 32 drivers could win a starting spot. It all depended on the size of the track and how many pit stalls they had available.
    In the late eighties and early nineties, the number of starting positions began to stabilize, based largely on the number of pit stalls a track had. Generally, a set number of entrants was decided, based on qualifying speeds with a few provisional openings allowed for cars in the top 35 of owner's points. Then in 1990, the super speed tracks slotted in 40 drivers with two provisionals. It was still a bit less at the smaller tracks, but the procedures used were identical.
    After that, popularity came into play. In 2009, NASCAR changed the rules governing who would participate in the Bud Shootout. It was a surprise to everyone. It wasn't long, though, before they altered their new rules, adding wild-cards to the race. The reason for this is called, even by the drivers, The Tony Stewart Rule. Had NASCAR not added the wild-card, Stewart would not have been in the Bud Shootout.
    It was this same logic that was used when the Past Champions slot was added to the field. Initially, it was to accommodate the King, Richard Petty, who was struggling to get into races. He'd actually missed a race in 1989, and fans had been outraged. Some of the drivers were shocked by it, too. In fact, I read one account that claimed it was Darrel Waltrip who had spoken up and said that it was sinful that a champion like Petty wasn't allowed to race. By adding a Past Champions slot, Petty was assured of making the field. Early on, it was an optional rule and up to the individual tracks as to whether or not they used it. In the early nineties, it was used sparingly. It wasn't used in every race, or even in every season, but that would change in 1997.
    1997 was the year when NASCAR decided they needed to standardize the field. Some say it was trial and error that was used to come up with the magic number, but in reality, NASCAR reviewed a number of important factors, including:
    -the number of pit stalls at each track
    -the garage space at each track
    -individual track conditions
    -the number of entrants attempting each race
    -the number of teams attempting to run a full season
    -the amount of the purse for each race
    Ultimately, they settled on 43. Thirty-six of these slots were earned during qualifying Seven slots were provisional, and then there was the now-mandated Past Champions spot.
    Nowadays, the top 35 are locked in by owner's points, with the seven provisional slots going to the fastest qualifying cars. Rounding out the field is the Past Champions slot. However, if there is no past champion, a forty-third car is still fielded.
    The number 43 may seem like a mystery, but like most things, it's there for a reason, even if it takes a while to figure out how and why.

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