You didn’t think you’d get one week into the season without a debate, did you? Speedweeks 2021 is here, and that means 2-Headed Monster is back with a topic that will certainly get the conversation started. Should NASCAR have expanded the fields for this weekend due to the excessive car count?
It’s been years since we’ve seen this many entries come down to try and make a race at Daytona International Speedway. The The Cup Series features 44 cars attempting to qualify for 40 spots. The NASCAR Xfinity Series will have upwards of 45 cars for 36 spots, and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has 46 entries for just 36 spots.
Daytona has the ability to run 43 cars in every division due to the size of both the infield and pit road. However, the purse money NASCAR puts up for each race varies per team based on the starting grid. The formula is simple: more cars equals less money per team.
Mark Kristl and Luken Glover debate about what NASCAR should have done with the field sizes for Speedweeks 2021.
Take Me Back to 1998
The Cup Series had at least 43 entries from 1998 to 2015 before the charter system was introduced. Since then, struggles to purchase a charter, sponsorship woes and high costs have prevented many owners from competing. Personally, I am not a big fan of the charter system, but we won’t get into that.
When I first started watching racing, I loved the sight of 43 cars soaring around the track. Forty is only three less, obviously, but 43 just adds to the challenge. These are some of the best stock car drivers in the world, and seeing 43 of them go at it just adds to the excitement.
This week for the Daytona 500, we have 44 entries, meaning four cars will go home. It’s a prestigious race that I wish could still draw at least 50 or more teams to attempt it. Some organizations put everything they have into this race as part of a limited schedule. Look at Beard Motorsports, for example. They have attempted all four superspeedway races each year for the past four seasons and for the past couple of years, former driver Brendan Gaughan was in the hunt for the win numerous times. But in 2021, they have rookie Noah Gragson attempting his Cup debut and there’s no guaranteed spot to fall back on. When you look at how much money, sponsorship commitment and hard work goes into this race, I would like to see them have a better chance to make the field.
Having 43 entries would also increase sponsorship opportunities. Not only do teams have to go home when they miss the race, but sponsors also lose a chance at promotion and exposure. With an expanded lineup, smaller sponsors will have a chance to get their name out there and also motivate other companies to follow suit. Guys who are looking to enter a new team but don’t have a charter may have more motivation to go out and fight for a shot in the Daytona 500.
From a fan standpoint, more teams add to the drama in a race where the lead draft can run 35, sometimes 40 strong. More cars mean a greater amount of diverse paint schemes (which we all love, right?) and additional opportunities for a Cinderella upset. Drivers now have opportunities to draft with more cars, and there’s more of a challenge to fend off those extra entries.
It also relieves some of the pressure on open teams fighting for just four spots on the grid. If an open driver were to have an issue in qualifying or the Duel races Thursday night (Feb. 11), their chances are pretty much dashed immediately. However, if you expand the field, a miscue may not be fatal to your chances.
I think the challenge to make the race should not be taken away; but if we have more than 43 entries, going forward I would like to see teams have a better shot to make the biggest race of the year. – Luken Glover
Quantity Does Not Yield Quality
Beginning a 2021 season when COVID-19 rages on in this country, large entry lists for the NASCAR season-opening weekend are a good sign. Moreover, new ownership in all three series signifies the sport is recovering from an economically trying year. However, despite that unexpected strength, NASCAR should not expand the fields simply for one race weekend.
NASCAR already expanded the Truck Series field to 36 drivers for race weekends where there are practice and qualifying sessions. Why then should NASCAR expand it further?
Make no mistake, I want full fields for all NASCAR series in all races this year. But just because one event has more entered drivers than starting spots does not justify NASCAR temporarily expanding the field size.
Sending drivers home for failing to qualify for a race is not a bad occurrence. Competition is healthy for any sport. It pushes teams, drivers, etc. to perform better, whether that be to acquire more funding, purchase better equipment and/or be better prepared for the race weekend.
A great example of that was last year’s Daytona Duel qualifying races. Full-time Cup Series driver Daniel Suarez failed to make the Daytona 500, whereas underdog Timmy Hill gleefully celebrated racing his way into the Cup Series season opener. If NASCAR allowed 43 drivers to make the race, that excitement would have turned into a snoozer. Only one driver would have been sent home, period, making the Duels little more than a glorified test session.
NASCAR should not further expand the field size for the Xfinity nor Truck series season openers, either. In Xfinity Series qualifying, two Kaulig Racing drivers dealt with mechanical issues in their qualifying runs. AJ Allmendinger subsequently failed to make the race, along with Ross Chastain. As a result, Kaulig Racing bought Jeff Green’s entry in the No. 38, a move which also financially benefitted RSS Racing in the process. Qualifying brought a storyline to qualifying when those one-lap runs are often the most boring we’ll see all year.
Finally, the Truck Series sent seven drivers home after qualifying. While those seven drivers may have surprised in the race, do you want additional entries whose vehicles lack speed racing for the win? Quantity does not guarantee quality.
In addition to creating qualifying storylines, thereby adding some excitement to the race weekend, NASCAR also has the financial aspect to consider when it comes to field size.
NASCAR previously lowered the field size of both the Xfinity and Truck series to bolster the purse from each race. Although that information is not released to the public nor media, a larger purse from the smaller field adds up. A source told Frontstretch one set of tires costs approximately $2,650. At a track such as Darlington Raceway, an additional set of sticker tires is valuable.
If NASCAR expanded the field size for the season-opening race weekend, the biggest payday of the year, less money would affect teams’ bottom line. It’s only one race but a poor finish would mean a larger, more detrimental impact to a year-long budget.
Another reason NASCAR should not expand its season-opening race weekend field size is the bad precedent it sets. The points which drivers accrue in the regular season, beginning at Daytona International Speedway, help them advance to, and then throughout, the playoffs.
If NASCAR treated Daytona differently, it’s a blatant insult to every other racetrack and event on the NASCAR schedule. What prohibits them from expanding the starting field for races at new venues? Indianapolis Motor Speedway has seen its race date moved over the past few years. Should NASCAR expand the grid for that race weekend to help that track better promote its races? Where are the checks and balances on the sanctioning body?
Consistency is key, and NASCAR ought to abide by the field sizes it set at the beginning of the season. Temporarily expanding the grid for its season-opening race weekend is unnecessary, robs the Daytona 500 of possible storylines, and could produce a negative financial effect on its race teams. – Mark Kristl