The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (often shortened to Sprint Cup or the Cup Series) is the top racing series of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR).
The series was originally known as the Strictly Stock Series (1949) and Grand National Series (1950/1970). While leasing its naming rights to R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, it was known as the Winston Cup Series (1971/2003). When a similar deal was made with Sprint Nextel Corporation, it became the NEXTEL Cup Series (2004/2007).It is sometimes erroneously referred to as simply, NASCAR.
The drivers champion is determined by a point system where points are given according to finishing placement and laps led. The season is divided into two segments. After the first 26 races, the 12 highest ranked drivers are seeded based on their total number of wins and compete in the last 10 races with the difference in points greatly equalized. This is called the Chase for the Championship.
The series holds strong roots in the Southeastern United States with half of its 36-race season in that region. However, it has grown to become one of the six most popular professional sports in the United States. The Daytona 500, its most prestigious race, had a television audience in the U.S. of about 16 million viewers in 2009.Previously, races have been held in Canada, and exhibition races were held in Japan and Australia.
Sprint Cup Series cars are unique in automobile racing. The engines are powerful enough to reach speeds over 200 mph (320 km/h), but high weight makes for poor handling. Their bodies and chassis are strictly regulated to ensure parity, and electronics are generally spartan in nature.
In 1949, NASCAR introduced the Strictly Stock division, after sanctioning Modified and Roadster division races in 1948. Eight races were run, on seven different dirt ovals and the Daytona Beach beach/street course.
The first NASCAR “Strictly Stock” race ever was held at Charlotte Speedway on June 19, 1949. The race was won by Jim Roper after Glenn Dunnaway was disqualified after the discovery of his altered rear springs. The first series champion was Red Byron. The division was renamed to “Grand National” for the 1950 season, reflecting NASCAR’s intent to make its part of the sport more professional and more prestigious. It would retain this name until 1971.The 1949 Strictly Stock season is treated in NASCAR’s record books as the first season of GN/Cup history. Martinsville Speedway is the only track on the 1949 schedule that remains on the current schedule.
Rather than a fixed schedule of one race per weekend with most entrants appearing at every event, the Grand National schedule included over sixty events in some years, often with two or three on the same weekend, and occasionally with two races on the same day in different states.
In the early years, most GN races were held on dirt-surfaced short oval tracks (from under a quarter-mile to over a half-mile lap length) or dirt fairgrounds ovals (usually a half-mile to a mile lap length). 198 of the first 221 Grand National races were on dirt tracks.
Darlington Raceway opened in 1950 and became the first completely paved track on the circuit over one mile long. In 1959, when Daytona International Speedway was opened, the schedule still had more races on dirt racetracks than paved ones. Through the 1960s, as superspeedways were built and old dirt tracks were paved, the number of dirt races was reduced.
The last NASCAR race on a dirt track was held on September 30, 1970 at the half-mile State Fairgrounds Speedway in Raleigh, North Carolina. It was won by Richard Petty in a Plymouth that had been sold by Petty Enterprises to Don Robertson and rented back for the race.
A Manufacturer’s Championship is awarded each year, although the Driver’s Championship is considered more prestigious. In the past, manufacturer’s championships were very prestigious because of the number of manufacturers involved, and the manufacturer’s championship was a major marketing tool. In the Nationwide Series, the championship is known as the Bill France Performance Cup.
Points are scored in a 1960-1990 Formula One system, with the winner’s manufacturer scoring nine points, six for the next manufacturer, four for the manufacturer third among makes, three for the fourth, two for the fifth, and one point for the sixth positioned manufacturer. This means that if Chevrolets place first through tenth in a given race and a Ford is 11th and a Dodge 12th, Chevrolet earns 9 points, Ford 6 and Dodge 4.
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