Race Weekend Central

Is ARCA Due for Larger Car Counts?

The ARCA Menards Series season opener at Daytona International Speedway two weeks ago marked the first time since 2017 that the series sent teams home in qualifying. 

Fifty drivers entered the event, and 10 failed to qualify. However, as the season rolls into Phoenix Raceway and goes throughout the remainder of its 2024 schedule, is it plausible to expect car counts to be up like this all season long?

To preface, it’s important to understand that it’s unlikely the series will see 50 entrants for any race for the remainder of the season, perhaps outside of the third race at Talladega Superspeedway. The second race of the season at Phoenix is also expected to have a larger car count, as the race has seen well over 35 each of the last two seasons, as it’s in combination with the ARCA Menards Series West.

However, seeing improved car counts at the smaller standalone races is something of a necessity for the series, and it would bode well for the overall health of ARCA moving forward. 

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In 2023, the national division of ARCA saw an average starting field of about 24 cars a race, which was slightly down from the 2022 total of 25. A large impact on that had been the trickle-down effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, and how it affected the smaller teams. Now, the pandemic is over, and the series is starting to return to its previous standing in terms of competitiveness and car counts. 

Looking at the schedule, the larger tracks are rarely ever the issue with smaller car counts. Daytona, Talladega, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Pocono Raceway and Kansas Speedway have all had car counts north of 20 over each of the last few years. Furthermore, some short tracks like the aforementioned Phoenix and Bristol Motor Speedway pull car counts over 30 annually. 

Alternatively, the smaller, standalone races like Berlin Raceway, Elko Speedway, Toledo Speedway and Salem Speedway tend to have counts of less than 20 cars perennially. In fact, Toledo and Berlin have only had over 20 cars once since 2018, and Elko hasn’t amassed over that number since 2017.

Salem has the most recent car count over 20 cars of these races, with 21 cars back in 2019. Getting these races to see healthier car counts this season and beyond would be a positive sign for the series moving forward. 

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With all of that being said, the series does have a brighter outlook heading into 2024.

Twelve drivers, as of now, are intending to run the full schedule this season, with at least seven other teams likely running the full season with an array of drivers. Those teams include Cook Racing Technologies, which will have Marco Andretti aboard, Joe Gibbs Racing with William Sawalich and Tanner Gray, and the trio of Fast Track Racing entries.

Other smaller teams, like Rise Motorsports, have also announced their intentions to run more races than in previous years throughout the season with various drivers. 

That projection gives ARCA a possible basis of at least 20 cars per race, barring any circumstances teams face during the standard ups and downs of the racing season. On the same note, newer teams always show up throughout the season, and combination races with ARCA Menards Series East and West will only help car counts further. 

All things considered, it’s a good sign for the series early on in the year. Fifty teams saw enough potential in the series’ forward-moving progression to risk heading to Daytona without a guaranteed spot in the race, and it could set the tone for the largest average yearly car counts the series has seen in a handful of seasons by the time the checkered flag waves at Toledo in October. 

About the author

Josh joined Frontstretch in 2023 and currently covers the ARCA Menards Series. Born and raised in Missouri, Josh has been watching motorsports since 2005. He currently is studying for a Mass Communication degree at Lindenwood University

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Steve

Track purses probably have alot to do with car counts. Tracks like Daytona and the tracks the Cup series race on are more than likely to have higher purses than say Berlin, etc, so they attract more cars. The amount of full time teams or teams attempting all the races is probably a better indicator of how strong the series is in my opinion.

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