Atlanta has smallest NASCAR Cup field since 1996

I kept waiting for more cars to show up.

A week after the Daytona 500, a thrilling race won by Austin Dillon, I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw that only 36 cars were on the entry list for Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Folks we are way past the idea of saving money, race charters and a lack of sponsorship. It now feels like eons ago when there would be 43 entries to start a race, a number cut to 40 by NASCAR’s brass. In the time since the field was cut to 40, it was not uncommon to see fewer cars in a race – something that perplexed me as not long about more than 43 teams would show up at a race track hoping to just cash in on the money for starting a race.

That money has gone away and show have those teams. NASCAR’s self made changes aided in part by charters, a distaste for start and park teams and an overall difficultly in attracting advertisers has left the sport with it’s smallest field since 1996 at Martinsville when just 36 cars took the green flag. The kicker?  NASCAR limited the Martinsville race to 36 drivers even with 42 on the entry list.

The plan to prevent those small start and park teams have worked.

NASCAR created a charter system which rewarded 36 teams who are considered important enough to guarantee entry into the field. The big perk for these teams, aside from being in the race regardless of what happens in qualifying, was that they would get extra money for entering a race with bonus’ to follow. At that moment you could hear all those start and park teams turn down their engines.

The small benefit of leasing a car, equipment and paying for people to get to the track was gone for the start and park teams. With that gone, it’s hardly a surprise to see their entries lessen and in turn the total number of entries in each race.

There were 42 Xfinity cars entered for a 40-car field at Atlanta and 34 trucks entered for a 32-car field this weekend at Atlanta albeit without the same strict charter rules as the Cup Series.