Depending on the year and the competition, the number of cars in a NASCAR race varies.
In the 2020 Daytona 500, the most notorious NASCAR race, there were 40 cars that participated.
While NASCAR drivers compete individually in races, many of them are on a team with other drivers. A team is allowed up to four different cars and is usually made up of cars from one manufacturer. The most common car manufacturers include Chevrolet, Ford, and Toyota. In addition to cars on a team sharing the same manufacturer, different teams that have the same manufacturer will often work together.
In the NASCAR Cup Series, 17 teams compete. A few of the most notable teams are Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, and Stewart-Haas Racing. While a NASCAR owner usually has only one team, a team is allowed to race in all of the NASCAR national series including the NASCAR Cup Series, the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series.
In 2016, the number of cars in a NASCAR race was cut down from 43 to 40. At the same time, the organization enacted a charter system for racing teams. Under the new system, 36 individual charters were awarded for the NASCAR Cup Series. A charter guarantees that the owner will have at least one of their cars compete in the NASCAR Cup Series points races. In addition, the charters are able to be transferred from one team to another or sold to outside buyers.
This decision was made by NASCAR to improve the financial stability of the organization and increase the value of each racing team, especially to investors. The teams that consistently competed in the most races were awarded the initial charters. These teams included Hendrick Motorsports (four charters), Stewart-Haas Racing (three charters) and Joe Gibbs Racing (three charters).
While 43 drivers compete in the qualifying rounds, only 40 earn a spot to race in the Daytona 500. However, the 36 charter drivers are guaranteed a spot in the race. Therefore, the four open spots in the race can be filled in by any of the seven remaining non charter drivers.
To start, each driver participates in a timed lap around the track at the Daytona International Speedway. The two drivers with the fastest times automatically qualify for a front row position in the race.
After the qualifying laps are completed, the remaining drivers race in the Bluegreen Vacation Duels to determine their spots in the race. The Duels are broken up into two, 60 lap, 150 mile races. Drivers that finished in odd positions for the qualifying lap race in the first Duel while drivers that finished in even positions compete in the second Duel race. The winner of each Duel earns a spot in the second row to start the Daytona 500. The remaining positions are filled in based on the finishing order of the Duel races.