Past champion's provisional entry limited to six

CONCORD, N.C. -- Just call it the Dale Jarrett Rule for now.

As reported on ESPN.com last week, NASCAR officials announced on Wednesday that a past champion's provisional can be used only six times in a 36-race season.

In addition, a team with a past champion eligible may use the provisional only six times, meaning a second former champion can't be brought in to take advantage of the rule.

In the past, there was no limit on the usage of the provisional, which allows a past champion to claim the 43rd and final starting position if he didn't qualify on speed.

Affected most immediately will be Jarrett, the 1999 champion who left Robert Yates Racing for the new Toyota team of Michael Waltrip Racing. Jarrett is the only full-time driver currently outside the top 35 in points that are guaranteed a spot in the field who would need to take advantage of the provisional for the first five races.

But there is the potential for many more after the first five races when guaranteed spots go from the top 35 of 2006 to this year.

"We just feel there are so many past champions out there that we needed to do something," Pemberton said.

A year ago, two-time Cup champion Terry Labonte ran a limited number of races for Hall of Fame Racing to guarantee that team made races early in the season and solidified itself in the top 35.

With the influx of seven full-time Toyota teams and the expansion of other organizations, there was the potential for other past champions to come into play.

"We're just trying to make it fair to all," Pemberton said.

Past champions currently competing full- or part-time: Jimmie Johnson ('06), Tony Stewart ('02, '05), Kurt Busch ('04), Matt Kenseth ('03), Jeff Gordon ('95, '97, '98, '01), Bobby Labonte ('00), Jarrett ('99) and Bill Elliott ('88).

The past champions' provisional was created in 1991 in response to complaints that seven-time Winston Cup champion Richard Petty failed to qualify for the spring 1989 race at Richmond.

Only one past champion's provisional is allowed per race, going to the most recent champion who fails to qualify for a race. NASCAR has discussed limiting the number of past champion's provisionals before, particularly after Darrell Waltrip used it a number of times in 1998.

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.