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Random Lugnuts: NASCAR Numerology

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  NASCAR
What is Random Lugnuts?  It's random bits of stock car racing commentary written on an irregular basis by an irregular racing fan.  The name is a reference to the lugnuts that go flying off a car during a pit stop:  you never know where they are going to go, what they're going to do when they get there, they can be annoying, they're often useless after a race, and every once in a while someone gets hit and they don't know exactly where it came from.
Opinions expressed by Bill Crittenden are not official policies or positions of The Crittenden Automotive Library. You can read more about the Library's goals, mission, policies, and operations on the About Us page.

Random Lugnuts: NASCAR Numerology

Bill Crittenden
October 30, 2013

In Formula 1, drivers are not associated with their numbers the way they are in stock car racing.  How could they be, when car numbers change from year to year?

The Constructors' Champion is issued numbers 1 and 2 for the next season, the #1 often worn by the Drivers' Champion if he was on that team.  Second place in Constructors' points is issued 3 and 4, and so on through the field.

Not so in NASCAR.  Numbers are held by teams, and drivers carry their numbers with them throughout their tenure with a team (except in rare cases, like Kurt Busch's move from 2 to 22).  This is great for longtime or lifetime driver-team arrangements, like Jeff Gordon's 24 or Dale Earnhardt's 3, numbers that in their stylized versions have become iconic symbols for NASCAR fans.

But what about the rest of the field?  Ryan Newman just had to take the 39 off his Twitter name and Martin Truex Jr. Was asking if it was time to take the 56 off of his.  What happens when a driver bounces from team to team?

What would it mean if numbers in the NASCAR Cup Series could be retained by the driver?  Obviously every driver can't have their own number permanently.  Counting Daytona entries, various start-and-park teams and road course ringers some seasons have seen 100+ individuals take a seat in a Cup Series start, and the drivers who come and go from year to year, there are more active drivers than numbers available from 00-99.

But for the truly popular drivers, could NASCAR override the team's ownership?  Remember that great commercial some years back about Dale Earnhardt Jr. changing his number?  Oh, how people would have freaked out, especially the guy getting the tattoo.  Oh, but then Dale did have to change his number!  So has Mark Martin, Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart, and a few other top-tier drivers whose fans have long accumulated (and often created) memorabilia in one particular number.

Like the "franchise" tag in football, could a driver be declared to have done enough in a number to justify keeping it over the team's wishes?  Kenseth won NASCAR's last Winston Cup in the 17, a number he drove in for more than a decade, and there are still hundreds of faded 17 stickers on cars all over the northern Illinois/southern Wisconsin area I call home.  There are also a few faded #20's, and I wonder from the discoloration if those had been on their cars since the days when Tony Stewart was in that car.

Could Dale Jr. still have the old #8 on his Hendrick car?  Could such a rule extend to Martin Truex Jr. and the 56?  How about Ryan Newman, who accomplished a heck of lot in the currently unused 12 and will be driving through his second number change in 5 years?  Most importantly, wouldn't that be easier for all the fans both in the stands trying to keep track of a race and all the fans at home decking out their cars and stocking their basement shelves?

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