NASCAR officials have announced changes to the provisional system used in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series and NASCAR Busch Series for the 2004 series.

The biggest change will see the number of cars that make the 43 car fields through qualifying times rise from 36 to 38. This reduces the number of provisional starting positions assigned to a field to five.

The "champion's" provisional remains in place for the 43rd and final starting position, where it's applicable.

The other key change to the rules involves the eligibility for the provisional starting positions for new car owners and those who aren't in the top 45 of the owner standings. These owners will be ineligible for provisionals until they have tried to qualify for four events, after which they will receive two provisionals. Additional ones can be earned by trying to qualify for six events although there will be a season maximum of eight. Before this new rule, owners could receive four provisionals after their first attempt to qualify.

Other changes see owners in the top 45 positions of the 2003 owner championship standings receive four provisionals at the outset of the season. They can earn an additional one after attempting to qualify for six events, for a season maximum of ten. The previous season maximum was eight.

Each provisional used by a car owner during the season - regardless of standing - will now count against the owner's season allotment earned. Previously, the top 25 car owners were not charged for provisionals used after the fourth race of the season.

If the number of entrants is equal to or less than the number of starting positions available for an event, provisionals assigned to fill starting positions 39-43 won't count towards the maximum season allotment.

The provisional system will be unchanged in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series as is the rule that states that teams in the Busch Series who use a driver from the NEXTEL Cup Series will be ineligible for a provisional starting position.



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