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Hammack: Are Dwindling Cup Car Counts A Concern?

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Even though all eyes will be focused on who is running up front at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, GA, it might be worthy to take a look at who is running in the back of the field Sunday.

More accurately it should be noted who, in fact, is not there!

This weekend in “Hotlanta” there are only 39 cars that showed up for the, now slimmed down, field of 40 starting positions available.  This is the lowest car count in more than two decades!  It marks just the third time since NASCAR standardized the starting fields in 1998 that there aren’t enough race cars to fill every starting position.

While the reduced numbers will not affect the front-runners – like Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. –   it should be something worth taking notice of.

I mean we are really talking about the extremely low-budgeted teams that would be lapped very early in the race, however, it marks the end of an era in NASCAR.

Another part of the colorful, historic history of NASCAR has been cast aside to be forgotten.  We can say farewell to those penny-pinching teams that “just want to go fast” in qualifying to hang around the race track all weekend!

“We have lost a lot”, laments former driver Dave Marcis, who spent the majority of his long career simply trying to qualify each week for the races in his under-financed cars.  He remembers a time when “if you were the  little guy and didn’t have any money and were not capable of winning the race, the fans sill respected you when you made the race.”

It appears that this season NASCAR may be hard pressed to get the maximum 40 cars on the track each week.

Former team owner Phil Parsons doesn’t necessarily consider that a bad thing.  Parsons ran one of those under-funded teams, shutting it down during the 2015 season for financial reasons.

“I hate the fact that we don’t have 50 or 60 cars attempting to qualify,” stated Parsons, the brother of the late Sprint Cup champion and TV announcer, Benny Parsons.  ”That’s just where we are right now.  We have a new normal.”

NASCAR was aware of the dwindling car counts when it agreed with the owners this year to a new “charter system”.  That charter essentially is recasting the race teams as a franchise with an eye toward enhancing the race teams value and creating more financial stability.

Additionally, there is the thought that this may lure some fresh blood into the sport. The main players, or the more successful owners, are getting up in their years; Rick Hendrick aged 66, while Richard Childress, Jack Roush, Richard Petty and Roger Penske are all in their 70’s!

If you are one of the 36 chartered race teams, your future is very bright.  You are guaranteed a starting spot in all the races and have all the bang for your buck this year.  However if you are lacking a charter, it simply doesn’t pay to compete on a regular basis unless you have a big-dollar sponsor like the Wood Brothers has.

One thing that is a mystery this year with the changes is the purses.  It seems the charter teams will be claiming a heftier piece of the pie, with an eye of nudging out those under-funded start-and-park teams that merely showed up to collect a last-place paycheck.

The days of the little guy showing up, qualifying, making the show, and collecting a paycheck or all but gone with this new charter arrangement in NASCAR.

Will this ultimately be in the best interest of the race team owners, only time will tell.

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About Leon Hammack

Leon Hammack is a retired airline pilot and avid race fan. Leon is a contributing writer and photographer for all three of NASCAR's touring series, as well as sprint car and midget racing. A native of Fresno, CA now wintering in Yuma, AZ., additionally, he spends the summer months near Coos Bay, OR. You may contact Leon on Twitter @captainblowdri

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