A big deal has been made about the size of the race field for Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway. In case you didn’t notice, there were 42 cars in that race, not the customary 43. Okay, so the field was one car shy; should we care?
Race fields have been commonly small in the Camping World Truck Series this year, but it’s not so common at the Sprint Cup level. As a matter-of-fact, the last time there was a short field for a Cup Series race was back when the series was still the Winston Cup Series and came under unusual circumstances. The race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, originally scheduled for the Sunday following Sept. 11, 2001, was rescheduled by tacking it onto the end of the season, making it the weekend after Thanksgiving. By that time, a team shut down, leaving 42 teams to compete in what became the last race of the 2001 season.
Anyway, a big deal was made in the days leading up to Saturday night’s race Kentucky — at least after the entry list was released — and in the time shortly after the running of the race. But, really, is it a big deal?
I don’t know about you, but I didn’t miss that 43rd entry. If it had been there, I’m sure it would’ve just been a so-called “back marker,” anyway. A couple or so years ago, it would’ve been occupied by a “start and parker.” And in case you’ve forgotten, nobody really liked those guys. Well, it wasn’t the guys doing it that weren’t like; it was the whole idea of starting and parking that got fans so riled up back then.
I realize there’s a bigger problem in NASCAR with symptoms that include declining race attendance, a decline in TV viewership and so on and so forth. Maybe the fact that the Kentucky race was one car shy of a full field was another symptom of the same problem. I’m not sure. I’m not going to pretend to know how to solve the attendance viewership problems. I’m guessing they’re not the results of a single issue; there are probably at least a few issue that led to the declines. Whether or not the same issues ultimately resulted in the recent short race field, I don’t know.
But I’m not going to get all worked up over it, at least not the short race field anyway, and at least not yet. Just a couple years ago, the 43-car field included a handful of “start and parkers,” so if you’d discounted them, there’d been fewer than 43. And, really, did they lend anything to the racing, other than getting the race field up to 43?
In recent days, it’s seemed to me that a lot of people are ready to declare NASCAR to be on life support, because one race was short one car. Is it all much ado about nothing? Okay, I get that it may look bad when you tack it on to the attendance and viewership declines and maybe some other things. Are the issues that closely related? Is the slightly short field that big of a deal or is it, simply, much ado about nothing? After all, the short field at Kentucky was only one car short and it’s been the only short field since the end of 2001. If more than a few upcoming races come up short, maybe then I’ll get concerned.
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