Many new NASCAR fans may think there are the same number of cars in every NASCAR race. With such large fields even at short tracks like Bristol and Martinsville, the field seems to be filled with dozens of cars. So, you may therefore wonder just how many cars there are in a NASCAR race.
There are usually between 36 and 40 cars in a NASCAR race. However, this only occurs at points-paying races. There are qualifying races, like the Daytona Duels, that have substantially fewer cars in the field. The same goes for the Clash at the Coliseum and the NASCAR All-Star Race.
Below, we will elaborate on how many cars are in each type of NASCAR Cup race. We will also reveal how many NASCAR teams there are and explain the difference between chartered and non-chartered teams.
How Many Cars Are In A NASCAR Cup Race?
There are between 36 and 40 cars in a NASCAR Cup Race. However, this has not always been the case, with 43 cars being the norm for quite some time. Since 2016, NASCAR has used a chartered system, granting 36 cars for NASCAR’s full-time teams a guaranteed spot in the race.
If you look back into NASCAR’s storied history, you will see a wide range of cars in Cup races. The inaugural race at Talladega saw 36 cars, but the race occurred with only a handful of Cup Series drivers because of the tire controversy that caused many drivers to leave the track before the race started.
The 1979 Daytona 500 fielded 41 cars. Going back to the 1959 Daytona 500, also the inaugural running of the race, 59 cars were present. Fast-forward to 1989, and 42 cars ran the race. The main difference between NASCAR in the 21st century and during its formative years is that it’s more standardized.
Do All NASCAR Races Have The Same Number Of Cars?
Not all NASCAR races have the same number of cars. Most races comprise 36 to 40 cars, but you will find exhibition and qualifying races that have fewer than 36 cars. The Clash at the Coliseum that occurs at the beginning of the season is too small to have 36 to 40 cars on the track at one time.
Instead, the event is divided into heat races featuring about 10 cars. The drivers who finish in the top four in those heats advance to the feature race, where there is a total of 20 cars. However, the cars that did not advance race in one of two last chance heats, giving those fields between 10 and 12 cars apiece.
The top three in each heat advance to the final race, putting the field at 22 cars. The car that did not move on in any of the heats but still finished the highest in the points the previous season also advances, giving the feature race at the Clash 23 cars.
The Duels, formerly known as the Twin 125s, serve as the qualifying races for the Daytona 500. These races occur after qualifying for the Great American Race, and they split the field in half. The field size for these races varies, as anyone who entered the Daytona 500 must complete the Duels.
Since 36 cars have charters, the field size for each race will be at least 18 cars. Non-charters are also eligible, and the number varies depending on who shows up. There could be zero, four, eight, or even more extra cars in each race, so it is possible that the field size for these races can reach well into the 20s.
The All-Star Weekend hosts two races, with the NASCAR Open and the All-Star Race. Like the Duels, the NASCAR All-Star Race’s field size varies, but it always includes every driver who won the event in the past, past NASCAR champions who were active during the prior season, plus all race winners over the last season-and-a-half.
One driver will enter the All-Star Race via a fan vote while others include winning stages at the Open. Theoretically, the All-Star can host a field of at least 36 cars or even more if each race in the previous season and in the current season had a different winner, but that is never usually the case.
The fields for both races, however, are not even, with 16 drivers taking part in the 2022 event and 24 making it to the feature race. Further, the All-Star Race’s format routinely changes, so what you see one season may be completely different from the previous season!
KEY POINTS• Most NASCAR races have a field of 36-40 cars
• Some non-points paying races feature fewer cars
• Qualifying races and heats for certain races may feature as few as 10 cars
How Many Teams Are There In NASCAR?
There are 23 teams in NASCAR, 16 of which are full-time chartered teams fielding 36 cars in total, while 7 are part-time teams that are non-charters. There is often confusion regarding the word team in NASCAR, as many fans may refer to a team in terms of each individual car’s team.
However, the word team in this article will refer to the racing organization, so Hendrick Motorsports would be considered a team here while their cars are considered part of that team.
NASCAR Teams List
|Team||Number of Cars||Full/Part-Time|
|JTG Daugherty Racing||1||Full-Time|
|Petty GMS Motorsports||2||Full-Time|
|Richard Childress Racing||3||Full-Time (2), Part-Time (1)|
|Trackhouse Racing Team||3||Full-Time (2), Part-Time (1)|
|Front Row Motorsports||2||Full-Time|
|Live Fast Motorsports||1||Full-Time|
|Rick Ware Racing||2||Full-Time|
|Wood Brothers Racing||1||Full-Time|
|Joe Gibbs Racing||4||Full-Time|
|NY Racing Team||1||Part-Time|
|The Money team Racing||1||Part-Time|
|Team Stange Racing||1||Part-Time|
|Team Herzeberg powered by Reaume Brothers Racing||2||Part-Time|
Chartered vs Non-Chartered Teams In NASCAR
The move to the chartered system in 2016 was a groundbreaking one for NASCAR, as it became the first example of the sanctioning body trying to work closely with its teams. Given NASCAR’s roots as an independent contracting organization, any team could have shown up on any weekend and entered the race if they were fast enough on qualifying day.
Teams with a charter were now guaranteed a spot in the race regardless of how they qualified. NASCAR determined the number of charters based on the commitment of each team, based on the number of teams that tried to qualify for each race between 2013 and 2015.
The First Chartered Teams
The 17 full-time teams in 2016 were:
- Joe Gibbs Racing
- Furniture Row Racing
- BK Racing
- Team Penske
- Roush-Fenway Racing
- Richard Petty Motorsports
- Go FAS Racing
- Front Row Motorsports
- Tommy Baldwin Racing
- Stewart-Haas Racing
- Richard Childress Racing
- Circle Sport Racing
- HScott Motorsports
- Hendrick Motorsports
- Germain Racing
- Chip Ganassi Racing
- JTG Daugherty Racing
Since NASCAR teams change hands and other teams like Ganassi Racing shut down their NASCAR program, teams can also sell their charters. Teams can also transfer their charters once, for one full season. NASCAR can strip a team’s car of their charter if they finish between 34th and 36th in owner points for three straight seasons.
Non-Chartered Teams At A Disadvantage
NASCAR’s non-chartered teams do sit at a disadvantage, as they only earn 35% of what you see a chartered team earn. They also do not get money regarding previous performances, unlike a chartered team. For this reason, you will see significantly fewer non-chartered teams, given the overall costs of running a NASCAR Cup Series team.
Do All NASCAR Teams Have The Same Number Of Cars?
Not all NASCAR teams have the same number of cars. However, no NASCAR team may field any more than 4 cars since the chartered system began. At one time, there was no real limit on this cap. Roush Racing served as one example, having fielded five cars during the 2004 Cup Series season.
Teams may start off with between one and two cars before they gain more prominence. Joe Gibbs Racing is one such team, having fielded two cars in 2004 before they eventually morphed into a four-car team.
Teams can also lose cars. If they wanted to sell their charter to a non-chartered team, they are essentially giving up one car. Going back to Roush Racing, they had three cars for the 2016 Cup Season, but Roush Racing, known as RFK Racing starting in 2022, fielded just two cars.
Some teams have historically been one-car teams. Wood Brothers Racing has fielded the 21 car for decades. And while the team opened operations in 1950, Wood Brothers has always remained a one-car team.
There are examples when NASCAR teams form what they call technical alliances with other teams. This often occurs when a newer or upstart team has a link with another team, which became the case with Michael Jordan’s and Denny Hamlin’s enterprise, 23XI Racing. Hamlin, who co-owns the #23 car, also drove for Joe Gibbs, which gives the two teams an alliance of sorts.
While teams like 23XI Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing are not a single team, it is not uncommon to see the 23XI cars work with the Gibbs cars. Another example goes back to the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the upstart Dale Earnhardt Incorporated forged an alliance with Richard Childress Racing.
Dale Earnhardt continued to drive his famed #3 car for owner Richard Childress. However, DEI had only the #1 car driven by Steve Park and Darrell Waltrip, and the two teams held a technical alliance during those first few seasons before DEI fielded the #8 and the #15 car.
KEY POINTS• NASCAR teams may be chartered or non-chartered, with chartered cars automatically qualifying for races
• There are 36 chartered cars, often called chartered teams
• Not all NASCAR Cup teams have the same number of cars, although no team can have more than 4
Why Did NASCAR Go From 43 Cars To 40?
NASCAR went from 43 cars to 40 in 2016 when they introduced the chartered system. This meant 36 chartered teams would always qualify for the races, and the other 4 spots would be open to non-chartered teams depending on where they qualified for the race.
In the 2000s, NASCAR hit a patch where, for some races, they did not always have enough cars to fill the 43-car field, which was standard for every race. This led to one of the more infamous moments in NASCAR history, as they were forced to invite homegrown teams to race tracks to act as field fillers.
The field fillers dramatically reduced the quality of races because most of them did not have proper funding. You may recall old races where some cars had nothing on the hood or the sides. This meant cars that had no sponsorship could not afford top line chassis, bodies, engines, or even enough tires to run a full race.
They had makeshift pit crews if they did have enough tires for the race, which was rare. This brought about a string of what are now known as start-and-park teams, where the teams started races, drove for a few laps, then parked their car and collected either last-place or a lower-placed prize money.
However, it wasn’t just organizations like MSRP Motorsports (later called Phil Parsons Racing), Shepherd Racing Ventures, or Kirk Shelmerdine Racing doing this over the years. Even established drivers like Robby Gordon ended up starting and parking.
The start-and-park movement was controversial, and NASCAR needed to find a way to curb the drivers and teams coming in to collect bottom-tier money. This meant they increased the prize money to teams who finished higher and dramatically decreased prize money for teams running toward the back of the field and those that regularly dropped out of races.
Enter The Chartered System
The chartered system came about in 2016, and it gave qualifying spots to 36 cars who raced for full-time teams the previous three seasons, from 2013 until 2015. This was a dramatic shift from what was once an independent contractor system that had been around since NASCAR started.
To further discourage starting and parking, the new system also reduced the field size from 43 cars to 40 cars maximum. But when you check out the result of some NASCAR races, there are times when you won’t even see 40 cars show up. As a result, there are times where the field may comprise only the 36 chartered teams.
KEY POINTS• NASCAR races used to be open to up to 43 cars
• Some teams would simply start the race and then park the car and collect their prize money for finishing last
• The chartered system eliminated the feasibility of start and park teams
Which NASCAR Race Had The Most Cars?
The NASCAR race with the most cars was the 1951 Southern 500, with 82 cars taking the green flag. The race lasted for 400 laps, and eventual winner Herb Thomas lapped the entire field, and he was the only driver to complete the 400-lap race. He also led 311 of those laps.
But the race was not a crowded event for its entire duration, as only 25 of the 82 entrants were listed as running when the checkered flag waved. Most drivers dropped out because of car trouble or an accident.
In NASCAR’s formative years, there were few standards and specifications the teams and cars had to adhere to. The number of races in a season wasn’t standardized, and there was never a set number of drivers bringing their respective cars to the tracks. With that in mind, NASCAR’s earliest races often had massive fields.
Which NASCAR Race Had The Fewest Cars?
The NASCAR race with the fewest cars was the NASCAR Grand National race at Piedmonts Interstate Fairgrounds in 1965, when just 23 cars started the race and only 7 cars finished. This number is much lower than the standard 40-car race in the modern era.
The 2 NASCAR races with the fewest cars in the sport’s modern era were the Hanes 500 at Martinsville in 1996 and the Spring Atlanta race in 2016. Both of these races featured 36 cars.
Defining a finish is subjective in the mind of many NASCAR fans, however, as some consider drivers that crossed the finish line with their cars running finished the race, which is the case for the Spartansburg event. Others define cars crossing the start-finish line on the lead lap as finishing the race.
If you go by the latter definition, then it is actually a tie between several races in NASCAR history. The 1951 Darlington race that fielded 82 cars would be one of many examples of a race that saw just one finisher, as the winner was the only one to finish on the lead lap. The last time this happened occurred in 1994, with Geoff Bodine pulling off the feat.
How Many Cars Are There In A NASCAR Xfinity Race?
There are normally 38 cars in a NASCAR Xfinity race. This series also had 43 cars at one time, before the number became a range between 36 and 40. Following a few seasons of between 36 and 40 cars making the race, the number of Xfinity cars per event eventually became 38.
How Many Trucks Are There In A NASCAR Truck Race?
There are normally 36 trucks in a NASCAR Truck Series race. When the NASCAR Truck Series debuted, the number of trucks entered varied between 24 and 40. As the series matured, the number of entrants increased to between 34 and 36.
There are between 36 and 40 cars in a NASCAR race. This number stems from the chartered system introduced in 2016, which gave 36 cars a charter, guaranteeing them entry into each race. The number of cars in a NASCAR race is lower for exhibition and qualifying races, like the Clash.