Kentucky Sprint Cup race to be first with fewer than 43 cars in more than a decade

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Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway will likely mark the first NASCAR Sprint Cup race without a full 43-car field in more than a decade.

Unless NASCAR officials would allow a late entry, which appears unlikely at this point, only 42 cars/drivers — according to NASCAR statisticians — will take the green flag in Saturday night’s event on the 1.5-mile tri-oval in Sparta, Kentucky, roughly 35 miles from downtown Cincinnati.

“The current 43-car field in the Sprint Cup Series has evolved over the years, yet it’s not necessarily a magic number,” NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said, according to SportingNews.com. “There are a variety of contributing factors that determine the size of the field, including the ebb and flow of the race teams. A field with less than the maximum is still very much a highly competitive field, and that’s what we’ll have this weekend at Kentucky Speedway.”

The last time there was a field less than the traditional 43 cars was the rescheduled Sprint Cup season finale on Nov. 23, 2001, at New Hampshire International Speedway (now known as New Hampshire Motor Speedway).

The race was originally scheduled for Sept. 16, 2001, but was postponed due to the 9/11 tragedy.

Robby Gordon won that event, his first career Sprint Cup victory, and the first of three in Gordon’s overall Cup career.

Ironically enough, Gordon was sponsored in that race by Lowe’s, which would move to Jimmie Johnson’s team in 2002 – and the rest is NASCAR history.

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Hunter and Jett Lawrence walk a delicate balance between winning races and favoring the fans

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ANAHEIM, California – Hunter and Jett Lawrence are two of the most popular riders on the Monster Energy Supercross circuit, with fan bases that established and grew immediately when they came to America to ride for HRC Honda. Connecting with those fans came naturally for the charming Australian brothers, but it has not come without cost.

“It’s cool they’re there and it’s one of the things we try to do is give the fan that interaction,” Hunter told NBC Sports during Supercross Media Sessions ahead of the 2023 season. “It’s why we do ride days, meet-and-greets, press conferences  – all that stuff, because it’s exciting for them. We are trying to bridge the gap so they get personal interaction. Because that’s all they’re after. It’s all about getting that fan to think, ‘I know that guy. I didn’t meet him, but I get him. I get his humor.’ ”

There is no artifice in either brother. Their fan appeal is directly attributable to who they are at their core. And it’s that very genuineness that has throngs of fans standing outside their hauler, waiting for just a moment of their time.

“It’s about being yourself – talking to people,” Hunter said. “It’s not like I turn it on or turn it off; it’s just about being yourself. This is who we are, this is who you get and this is how it will be. You can’t portray something you’re not. If you keep saying you’re an orange, but apples keep popping out, it’s only a matter of time [until they figure it out].”

The key word is ‘throngs’, however. One person wanting just a few moments of time is incidental. Dozens are an entirely different matter.

“It’s tough in Supercross because it’s such a long day,” Hunter said. “The recovery side of it’s tough to do everything. We get stuck outside the grid; we can’t be there for like 10 minutes. We’re stuck there for like an hour. It gets overwhelming at times.

“You feel bad because you want to sign everything, but you’re still here for a job. Every race day is like that. We do the best we can, but there are so many people who wait out front. They’re screaming for you. Even when we’re coming off the sessions, they’re already yelling before you put your bike on the stands. You don’t even get time to take you helmet off.”

It can be a double-edged sword. Personality is only one part of the equation. A much bigger part of the brothers’ fan appeal comes because of their success. Hunter finished second in the last two Supercross 250 West title battles and third in the past two Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships.

Jett won the last three titles he competed for, including last year’s 250 East Supercross Championship and the last two Motocross contests.

“I think they expect me to have nothing else to do on a Saturday and that I have unlimited energy,” Jett said. “But, I’m trying to recover for the next race.”

It’s a matter of timing. Jett has gained a reputation last year for handing out hundreds of donuts before the races during Red Bull fan appreciation sessions. And after the race, once the business at hand has been settled, Jett is equally available to the fans.

“After the race it’s fine; I’ll stay behind.” Jett said. “My job is done on the racing side of things, but until that last moto is done, my main thing is dirt bikes. The fans come along with it. The fans are part of the job, but main job at hand is the racing side of things. After the race, I’ll stay there for an hour or so. It’s a lot calmer.”