The first NASCAR Cup Series race with the Next Gen car, the 2022 season-opening Daytona 500, could very well break an unfortunate record.
We are already roughly two months into the offseason between the 2021 and 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season, and the latter is scheduled to get underway in just over three weeks.
The season is officially scheduled to get underway on Sunday, February 20 with the 64th annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway, though the first race of the year, the Busch Clash Light exhibition race at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, is set to mark the official debut of the Next Gen car in just over a week on Sunday, February 6.
Already, there are concerns arising about this year’s Daytona 500. Will the first official race with the Next Gen car fail to produce a full 40-car field?
Last year, there were 37 full-time entries alone, though one was naturally a part-time entry (JTG Daugherty Racing for Ryan Preece) since there are still just 36 charters.
There were seven other non-chartered entries that attempted to qualify for the race; three of those, plus the one driven by Preece, qualified, leaving four of 44 drivers on the outside looking in after the Duels.
This year, there are only 39 confirmed entries thus far.
The only three non-chartered entries confirmed so far are a Team Hezeberg Powered by
Reaume Brothers Racing entry (#27 Ford for Jacques Villeneuve), a Beard Motorsports entry (#62 Chevrolet for Noah Gragson), and an MBM Motorsports entry (#66 Ford for Timmy Hill).
The Beard Motorsports entry and the MBM Motorsports were both entered last year, and with Gragson and Hill as the drivers as well. Both failed to qualify.
There are still several other possibilities as far as additional non-chartered entries are concerned for this year’s running of the 200-lap “Great American Race” around the four-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) high-banked oval in Daytona Beach, Florida.
However, if we don’t see at least one more entry announced for next month’s season opener, it would mark the first time in 64 Daytona 500s that the field did not see at least 40 cars.
It would also mark the first race at Daytona International Speedway, including all of the summer races at the track, not to feature at least 40 cars in more than half a century. The 1968 Firecracker 400 saw just 37 cars on Thursday, July 4. A total of 106 races have been contested at the oval since then, including 53 of 63 Daytona 500s.
Fortunately, there are still a few possibilities in terms of potential additional entries, including three that stand out.
How many cars will end up on the entry list for the 2022 season opener? Will we see a full field despite the ongoing concerns? Which teams that haven’t announced entries for the race will end up doing so before race week?