The issue of Field Fillers in NASCAR
by Pete McCole

March 23, 2004

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Gordon tee-bones Andy Hillenburg at Darlington
CIA Stock Photo

If it wasn’t for the fact that his teammate Jimmie Johnson won the race, Sunday’s Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 NASCAR Nextel Cup race at Darlington Raceway might very well have been a race Jeff Gordon would have preferred to forget.

While Johnson's #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet Monte Carlo car was doing burnouts on the frontstretch, Jeff Gordon’s #24 DuPont Chevy was being hauled back to the team’s shop in Concord minus most of the front end, the result of a punishing crash involving Gordon and Andy Hillenburg on lap 29 of the 293-lap event.

Hillenburg, running far slower than the leaders, was already a lap down when Tony Stewart got into the back of him in turn two, sending Hillenburg’s #80 Ford spinning across the racetrack.

Elliott Sadler, running just ahead of Gordon, committed to the low side. With nowhere to go, and his view obscured by smoke, Gordon plowed into Hillenburg’s stopped race car.

Both cars were damaged beyond repair, but fortunately, both drivers were uninjured.

“I’ll be sore tomorrow,” Gordon said after the crash on Sunday. “I haven’t taken a hit like that possibly ever. The HANS device did its job, thankfully.

“I don’t know what happened there with Andy (Hillenburg) getting spun, but I’ll tell you what, there are a bunch of cars out there that do not belong out there. They’re way off the pace. They’re in the way.”

Gordon’s crash brought to light yet again the subject of “field fillers.”

Since the Daytona 500, barely enough cars have shown up at the last four Nextel Cup events to produce a full field, which has allowed several smaller, part-time teams the chance to participate in a race that they might otherwise not have been fast enough to qualify for.

As a result, each of the last four events has had at least five cars entered that could barely make minimum speed – field fillers, or rolling roadblocks.

Whatever you want to call them, Gordon says they don’t need to be out on the track with the big boys.

“This is the Nextel Cup Series. This is the best of the best,” Gordon said. “We don’t need to have cars that are just out there making a qualifying attempt and making the race.

“I don’t know if (the crash) was Andy’s fault, but I know there are other cars out there that are definitely not up to the speed that they need to be in this series.”

NASCAR, for its part, has not tried to discourage the teams from entering races, but they have parked some cars in the last few events for not making minimum speed. NASCAR officials said following the race that Hillenburg was faster than the minimum speed.

Gordon says NASCAR needs to do more, but so far no changes regarding “field fillers” have been announced.

“We talk (to NASCAR) about it all the time,” Gordon said. “They’ve tried to address it with a minimum speed. Maybe the minimum speed needs to be adjusted.

“I don’t care if there are 43 cars. I don’t know if the people in the stands really care if there are 43 cars. We need cars out there that are competitive and that need to be out there competing for position, not just riding around.”

The author can be contacted petem@autoracing1.com

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