NASCAR facing short Cup field for first time since 2001

For the first time in nearly 13 seasons, a NASCAR Sprint Cup race could start with fewer than 43 cars.

The Sprint Cup entry list for the Quaker State 400 on Saturday has only 42 cars. Inspection for Cup cars begins at noon Thursday at Kentucky Speedway, so any late entries likely would have to be at the track at that time.

The 42 cars entered for Kentucky are the 42 cars that have been entered for every race this year. There have been 51 different cars at some point during the season, but none of the part-time teams are entered for Kentucky. The series has seen a decline in start-and-park teams this year, with only two cars parked early in 16 races.

The last time NASCAR did not have a 43-car Cup field was in 2001, when the season-ending race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (postponed to Thanksgiving week because of the 9/11 terrorist attacks) had 42 cars as the Rick Mast team had shut down between the original date of the race and the end of the season.

“The current 43-car field in the Sprint Cup Series has evolved over the years, yet it’s not necessarily a magic number," NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said. "There are a variety of contributing factors that determine the size of the field, including the ebb and flow of the race teams. A field with less than the maximum is still very much a highly competitive field, and that’s what we’ll have this weekend at Kentucky Speedway."

NASCAR and network executives are adamant that NASCAR is not required to have 43 cars competing in an event to fulfill its television obligations.

Short fields are not uncommon in other NASCAR national series. The Nationwide Series had two short fields (it has a maximum of 40 cars) this year and two last year. The Camping World Truck Series, which fields 36 cars except for Eldora, has had five consecutive short fields this year and a total of six last year.

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