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NASCAR’s top-35 rule may be rendered null and void in 2012

By admin | December 19, 2011

By Richard Allen


When asked to name their least favorite things about the sport of NASCAR racing, fans often list the rule that guarantees those teams within the top-35 of the owners’ standings into each race near the top. That proved true during a Monday night Twitter and Facebook discussion regarding the least favorite rules in NASCAR.

This upcoming season, a simple matter of attrition may cause that rule to become null and void, or inconsequencial, at some point in time.

With a lagging economy forcing companies to more carefully mind their advertising dollars, there could possibly be fewer than 35 teams with enough funding to make each of the thirty-six trips on the Sprint Cup schedule.

Using the 2012 team chart on as a guide, I counted twenty-five cars that I feel certain will run every race. (Those car numbers are 1, 2, 5, 9, 11, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 20, 22, 24, 27, 29, 31, 39, 42, 43, 47, 48, 56, 78, 88 and 99.)

The closure of Team Red Bull combined with the reductions at Roush Fenway Racing and Richard Childress Racing accounts for the loss of four fulltime Sprint Cup rides(Those car numbers are 4, 6, 33 and 83). Add to that, the Jayski team chart is filled with so much uncertainty among the remaining teams that it appears unlikely many, if any, will emerge from that group to run a full schedule.

There are a number of teams listed(Nine by my count including 13, 32, 34, 36, 37, 38, 51, 66 and 71.) that could be considered anywhere from fulltime runners to start and parks to dissolved by the midway point of the season.

It doesn’t take much of a mathematician to figure out that the twenty-five teams listed in the first group and the nine listed in the second group adds up to thirty-four. As in any unofficial survey, there has to be a little margin for error figured in. So, there could conceivably be as many as thirty-six teams at the beginning of the upcoming season who intend to run the full schedule. But, there could also be as few as thirty-two who may actually make it.

My opinion has always been that there needs to be some guarantee in terms of which teams will make the field for a race but that thirty-five is too many. If a team cannot maintain a spot in the top-25 of the standings, they should have no assurance of making a race without the speed to do so. By having so few open spots each week, NASCAR might have actually discouraged the formation of new teams.

What all of this math amounts to is that one of the most disliked rules in all of NASCAR could be rendered null and void by the end of the season. The high cost of racing combined with the lack of interest in full fledged sponsorship could serve to accomplish what the cries of disgruntled fans has yet to get done.

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Topics: Articles |

21 Responses to “NASCAR’s top-35 rule may be rendered null and void in 2012”

  1. Russ Says:
    December 19th, 2011 at 11:26 pm

    In my opinion the top 35 has, made it virtually impossible for new teams to have a realistic chance of competing in the Sprint Cup Series. No corporation is going to be convinced sponsorship is a good thing if there is no quarentee of competing.

    On the other hand it has effectively created the franchises that the teams wanted, without having to call them franchises. That may have opened them up to restraint of trade issues.

    As I was told several years back, the plan was to have ten teams with four cars each. Looks like they are a little behind schedule.

  2. zhills fan Says:
    December 20th, 2011 at 4:41 am

    I guess we disagree somewhat. I never did like the guaranteed rule. The fastest make it, the rest go home.

  3. Keith_Kagee Says:
    December 20th, 2011 at 5:28 am

    Ha! You get the Lucky Dog award this week… You did the math.

  4. Sue Rarick Says:
    December 20th, 2011 at 9:57 am

    Just thinking that if someone bought one of the Red Bull cars and an engine they could run a half dozen or so races. With less than 43 cars they’d be automatically qualified by just running a qualifying lap and after a few laps come in and park…. Heck they’d put less miles on an engine all year than the regulars put on theirs in one race. I can see it now the #89 I’m here for the money Toyota.

    Seriously though, I can’t wait to see how often the talking heads use the number 43 to describe the field, then have to correct themselves.

  5. Kevin Says:
    December 20th, 2011 at 10:14 am

    My understanding of the current top 35 rule is that it was put in place when many sponsor’s wanted to be a part of the sport, but felt it was too much of a risk if they didn’t have some sort of guarantee of being in the race.

    In other words, there was plenty of sponsors & $ available, and plenty of teams, but there was hesitance to spend without a guarantee of being in the show.

    Now, the situation is entirely different. NASCAR needs to be worried not about the top 35 cars in points being guaranteed into the race, but more about having 43 cars show up to each and every race.

    I am a firm believer that all races should be impound races & the fastest 43 cars to qualify make the race. Qualifying is meant to make sure the best cars make it, to put on the best show possible. I would allow for a subsection to this rule that allowed for any car in the top 25 who spins out on thier qualifying lap to qualify shotgun to the field.

    While Daytona & Talladega will be the exception to the rules because so many will show up to run those races, NASCAR has a legitimate worry in regards to even having 43 cars show up to the track most other weeks. I wouldn’t worry this year about the top 35 rule having that much of an impact.

  6. Russ Says:
    December 20th, 2011 at 10:21 am

    Although for different reasons this has happened before. Back when I started following nascar in the late 60’s it wasn’t uncommon to see short fields. Promoters, particularly at the short tracks, would get some local hero to drive one of the name teams spare cars. Wasn’t much different from the start and parks we have today.

  7. racer47 Says:
    December 20th, 2011 at 11:26 am

    I have a solution for start and parks. PAY THEM FOR EACH LAP COMPLETED ! That will stop this crap !

  8. Slugwriter Says:
    December 20th, 2011 at 11:38 am

    The only “guaranteed” spots in a Nascar race should be those which qualified for the Chase (and the Chase is a discussion for another time) the year before.

  9. Bill B Says:
    December 20th, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    I’ve never had a problem with the top 35 rule, in fact I think it was a smart thing to do. It allows the majority of fans to be sure their driver will be part of the field when they buy a ticket to a race. It removes a team that sets a car up to qualify fast at the expense of running well during the race (qualifying setups, light engines, etc.). How is someone qualifying well and then parking it 10 laps while an actual fully funded team sits out help the sport? It also gives a team some value if the owner decides to sell (providing they can find a buyer).

    I agree with you Rich that 25 or 30 locked positions made more sense than 35 but it’s arbitrary and, as you point out, has become moot in the current economy.

    I always thought the fairest and best qualifying process was the one that was in place at the end of the 90’s. Do whatever you can at whatever cost to make the car go fast for 1 lap, then do whatever it takes at whatever cost to make the car run fast during the race. Also, the second chance qualifying was good for someone that had a fatal problem during the first round. As for the provisionals I’d have made it a maximum of two per race with no one being allowed to use one more than three times during the season. If those rules were put back in place that would be the only way I’d be for getting rid of the top ?? locked in rule.

    I will never understand why fans would rather see a nobody turn a fast lap, make the race, run 38th during the race, while a top star that had a mechanical problem during qualifying sits out. We already have enough luck and crapshoot in the sport without making qualifying a crapshoot too.

  10. Jeff D Says:
    December 20th, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    Frank Stoddard, Tommy Baldwin, Front Row Racing and Furniture Row Racing were all start up teams in recent years and they all finished the year in the top 35 in points. With that in mind I don’t see how you can argue the top 35 rule has been a barrier to entry into the sport.

  11. djones Says:
    December 20th, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    I agree with you Rich. I’ve been saying the same thing on other sites.

    Would we care if there were fewer than 43 cars in the race? I wouldn’t. We never see the S&P’s anyway unless they crash or hit a golden driver.

  12. Bob Faulkner Says:
    December 20th, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    I have constantly argued that NASCAR cheated the fans by not starting the 43 fastest cars. The Indy 500 starts the fastest 33,NHRA starts the fastest 16 for the finals. Most short tracks if you start 30 cars and have 35 entered only the fastest 30 cars will race.I can remember when Penske racing had no cars in the 500 They where too slow,John Force didn’t make the cut at a NHRA event because he was too slow. Yet in NASCAR so long as you are top 35 in points it doesn’t matter how slow you are,you still make the show. As far as I am concerned us fans are being cheated!!! I want to see the fastest take the green! Of course now Qualifying takes on a hole new meaning. Can you imagine what would happen if the 88,14 or 48 didn’t make the show!

  13. Chris Fiegler Says:
    December 20th, 2011 at 5:04 pm

    Why don’t they Eliminate the top 35 in Points & Just Qualify on Speed If you are Slow in Qualifying even if you are the defending Champion you Go Home.

  14. Bill B Says:
    December 20th, 2011 at 6:27 pm

    Why do people like the idea of the 88, 14 or 48 not racing because they had one bad lap. Especially if the guy that displaces them goes a lap down before the tenth lap?
    I really want to understand. Why is that scenario so attractive to so many? And most importantly how is that good for the sport in putting asses in the seat and watching it on tv?
    Is it just because that’s the way it’s always been done or is there really a benefit to it?
    I personally hate the wave arounds, lucky dogs and double file restarts (oh and the chase of course) much more than the top 35 rule. In my opinion the top 35 deal is small potatoes.

  15. Russ Says:
    December 20th, 2011 at 8:11 pm

    Jeff lets say you and I decide to start a race team. We make deals with people to sell us competitive equipment, and we find good people who are willing to go to work for us.
    Next we have to fiqure out a way to pay for this. I dont have money enough for even half of it, and you may not either. No bank is going to loan us the money unless we have the possibility of paying the bills.

    So lets get a sponsor, right? Not just Clem’s Restaurant and Car Wash (which btw was a good place to eat) but somebody who could really do it right. We make our proposal, that this is going to put their name out in front of the public and it will be great. They of course want to know how often, how many people etc. We cant guarantee anything because we will be competing for one of 8 spots in the field. In fact we wont be able to begin to do anything until we have their money.

    The result will most likely be the famous “don’t call us, we’ll call you”.

  16. Mr. Tony Geinzer Says:
    December 20th, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    Rich,I’ve tried to harp on NASCAR for nixing this dirty rule as I do feel bugged as a NASCAR Man that why Jr. has a Bill Elliott Following and the King gets bad Drivers and Sponsors? I also would like to get NASCAR to include more Short Paved and Dirt Ovals,too, but that’s a different blog.

  17. Dave in Ohio Says:
    December 20th, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    It’s good to see a little good ‘ol fashioned racing common sense expressed in the world of Na$car.

    The top 35 rule needs to go. Period.

    The fastest 43 cars on the grounds need to be the cars that start the race. Period. Bad qualifying effort? Too bad. Part of racing. Now, I can see the argument that the 50% of the fans that come to the race need to get their chance to see Dale Jr. lose yet another race, so I can see throwing in 1 or 2 provisionals per year per team. That would account for the occasional freak mechanical failure during qualifying. So no top anything rule. Want to be assured of getting in the race? Run a nice smooth lap with a “safe” setup designed to make the race. Want to roll the dice and go for the pole? That’s cool, but if you spin out doing it, too bad, that’s the risk you take to try to earn the reward.

    And you are right, I also think the top 35 rule will be largely irrelevant this year as they will be scraping for enough cars just to fill the field.

    Lastly, will you all quit harping on the “double file restarts” please? Na$car has always had double file restarts. It’s just that now you don’t have any sub-standard lap cars dangerously in the way of the faster lead cars.

  18. Clyde H. Says:
    December 20th, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    The top 35 rule should never have been in the first place. Look back at Michael Waltrips first season as a team owner. NAPA got screwed that season, because of that rule. Start the fastest 43 cars, like it used to be, before all the “provisionals” and “top 35″ rules came into being. And while we are at it, stop the “lucky dog” rule too. Then, just maybe, Nascar might start getting more of their fans back.

  19. ElBobbo Says:
    December 20th, 2011 at 9:41 pm

    Even if the top 35 rule goes away it will be too little too late. Since NA$CAR went down the spec car IROC road the whole series has been boring and fairly predictable. I will stay at home and enjoy the racing at the local dirt track, the place where drivers race (usually after wrenching on their cars) because they actually love it. You can keep the prima donnas and “Superstars” I will go to the pits after the race at The Dubuque County Speedway and have a beer with the winner.

  20. Bill B Says:
    December 21st, 2011 at 10:23 am

    re: “We cant guarantee anything because we will be competing for one of 8 spots in the field. ”

    Am I missing the point here??? We’re talking a new start-up team right? So if there are 43 spots available vs 8 how will that change what this new team can GUARANTEE?
    So they can’t beat the other 8 crap cars in qualifying but it raises their probability with 43 cars because one of them might make a mistake. So that increases their chances of backing into the race because of someone else’s bad luck not because they are a better car or will run better during the race. As I said above, we already have enough crapshoot properties in this sport.

    Once again, in either scenario they can’t GUARANTEE anything.

  21. Russ Says:
    December 21st, 2011 at 5:11 pm

    A startup can’t guarantee the sponsors that they would make the field.
    The sponsor could give a flip about the racing part. They want to know that their name is exposed to the public this many times for this amount of money. Without that guarantee the money is going to be hard to come by.

    Remember MWR and Napa when he couldn’t make the field?