Every year about this time, NASCAR fans question whether the Busch Clash has too many drivers. Is it really a selective race if more than half a full field is racing?
So I thought instead we’d look at the question that inevitably arises in February and again during All-Star week. Do NASCAR’s ‘exclusive’ non-points races have too many drivers?
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
A History of Eligible Drivers
I plotted the number of drivers in the Busch Clash (or equivalent) since the race was first held.
According to jayski.com, the Busch Clash has changed formats 15 times. That includes changes in length, stage breaks, and changes in the eligibility criteria. It’s gone from being a 15-minute sprint to an hour-and-a-half race.
- The smallest number of drivers in the Busch Clash was 10, which I don’t think anyone would argue is too many drivers. That happened in 1987 and 1990.
- We haven’t had fewer than 16 drivers in the Busch Clash since 1999.
- Pre-2000, the most number of drivers participating was 18, in 1995 and 1998.
- The number of drivers went up over the years, in part because we no longer have one or two drivers dominating the field.
- We’ve seen a leveling off, (if not a drop off) in the last ten to fifteen years.
- But the size of a full field has also changed from 43 to 40
- The largest number of drivers in the Busch Clash was in 2009, with 28 drivers — that’s 65% of a full race field.
- We’ve got 21 drivers this year, out of 24 eligible.
Paring It Down
The origin of the Busch Clash was putting the previous season’s fastest drivers on track together. ‘Fast’ was measured by who won poles.
But the eligibility criteria have broadened a lot. A new wrinkle is eliminating or minimizing qualifying due to cost-cutting initiatives and COVID.
That doesn’t mean we can’t preserve the original intent of the race: to reward the fastest drivers of the previous years.
- NASCAR lap-time data is now widely available. If there isn’t a pole winner from qualifying at a race, make the driver who has the most fastest laps eligible.
- Eliminate stage winners from eligibility. There’s already plenty of motivation for winning a stage and many stages are won by strategy, not speed.
- NASCAR’s created a lot of rules in the past to include beloved drivers, even after their peak. With as many competitive drivers as we have, eliminate eligibility for past Busch Clash winners.
- Don’t include superspeedway races if there isn’t single-car qualifying. The fastest-lap numbers there are due to drafting and don’t reflect the skill of a single car.
That leaves us able to all the ‘fastest’ drivers without having too many drivers.