Topping off the tank of bewilderment with l'essence of enlightenment

Why are there 43 cars in a NASCAR Sprint Cup race?

Ramsey Poston, NASCAR corporate communications managing director: Because that's what the rule book states.

Some help you are.

Buzz McKim, NASCAR historian: The whole thing is kind of murky.

Murky is bad.

InsiderRacing News.com: Different tracks used to start different numbers of cars in each race based on how many pit stalls were available.

Now it's getting clearer.

McKim: Yeah, starting fields were all over the map. The first Daytona had 59 cars, and Darlington had 75 cars in the 1950s.

Rubbin' is racin'!

Yes, but traditionally the short tracks averaged 36 to the field.

So when did it become 43?

The field was standardized to 43 in 1998. Why 43? It was the sort of thing where NASCAR sat behind closed doors and made that decision.

They just chose 43 at random?

I can't really say.

Hmmm ...

Wikipedia.org: 43 is the 14th smallest prime number. Forty-three is the smallest prime that is not a Chen prime. It is also the third Wagstaff prime.


David Boshart, Christiangathering place.com: It doesn't appear that 43 is mentioned in the Bible. But there are 103 mentions of chariots.


Jerry Cook, NASCAR administrative director: Some people struggled to qualify on short tracks but the next week could go to a track with 43 spots and make the field. So we decided to standardize the whole thing, whether the track was half a mile or 2½ miles.

Ah, so it's the top 43 cars that qualify?

McKim: Actually, no. The first 35 get a spot if they're in the the top 35 in owners' points. Spots 36 through 42 are the fastest qualifiers. And the 43rd is the champion's provisional, for the reigning Cup champ.

Who had the clout to pull that off?

Cook: Once at a race in Richmond, Richard Petty didn't qualify and had to go home. Fans weren't happy.

Car No. 43!

They added the champion's provisional to take care of that.

It's good to be The King.

This article appears in the July 30 issue of ESPN The Magazine.