Qualifying Attempts UP in 2009, Not Down.

About a month ago, ESPN.com’s Ed Hinton, a reasonable, informed voice, and among the longest-serving reporters on the NASCAR beat, suggested in a column that NASCAR could well emerge from this economic downturn in improved condition. He went on to argue that the sport was born in hardship and it’s endured equally-if-not-more-challenging periods than this (read Hinton’s story here).

Hinton’s column was, of course, a response to the gloom and doom that has pervaded the sport, an answer to the collective gnashing of teeth that wondered, for example, if we’d see full fields in 2009 or be presented with fewer than 43 cars on occasional Sundays. Well, not only does size not matter — it’s the quality of the racing, after all … or at least that’s what my wife tells me —  but, three weeks in, a funny thing has happened: entries are up over last year. That’s right, more cars have shown up and tried to qualify than did at this stage last year (56 versus 53 at Daytona and 51 vs. 47 at Vegas; California held steady at 48).

Whatever the reason for the increase — whether it’s a result of a surplus of available Cars of Tomorrow and fewer teams, as Randy Lajoie suggested on Thursday’s NASCAR Now, or an example of the sport’s can-do spirit highlighted by Hinton — it really doesn’t matter. More people are trying to race, which can’t be a bad thing.