Charters… Finally!

The charter system.

We all knew it would be coming in some form, and for better or worse it’s actually here now.

Plenty of places have reported on the news which dropped on the 9th (including the NY Times) so here’s the short version…

  • The field is cut down to 40 cars.
  • 36 cars get a charter
  • Four “open” spots are left per race
  • Charters went to teams that attempted each race in the last three years
No Charter for you!
No Charter for you!

That three year clause is a big one. There are 38 teams who have announced intentions of racing full time this year. Four of those 38 teams do not qualify for a charter. The #19 JGR of Edwards, #41 Stewart-Hass of Kurt Busch, and the #46 HScott of Michael Annett all have not existed long enough to qualify for that three year minimum. The Wood Brothers’ #21 of Blaney has been part time for the last few years so did not attempt to qualify for all the races despite existing since the earliest days of NASCAR.

Kauffmann of MWR was awarded two charters even though everyone knew that MWR was shutting down because two of the MWR teams attempted all the races in the last three years.

As expected, Kauffmann sold the two charters to Gibbs and Stewart-Hass. Word on the street is that HScott is leasing the charter from Jay Robinson’s Premium Motorsports #62 for one year. This makes sense for Harry Scott’s team since Clint Bowyer is on a one year deal before moving on to take over Tony Stewart’s #14. HScott Motorsports can then contract back to one team with one charter or go about the process of guaranteeing the second car as they will. This is also a win for the #62 who will have an infusion of cash to go about qualifying for the Open Spots with a car that was often unsponsored in the past.

I love that teams like Tommy Baldwin Racing and merged forces of Levine Family Racing and Circle Sport are getting a reward finally for surviving the money churn that is running a race team. It is still expensive as hell to race in NASCAR, but having some security net in place is better than the past when there was zero security. Remember the owner-driver fad in the 90s when one car teams were still normal? Darrell Waltrip, Geoff Bodine, Rickey Rudd… all very successful drivers that still could not manage to survive as race teams.

The biggest travesty of this charter system is that it leaves the Wood Brothers out in the cold.

Let’s talk about the positives here before we get into too much speculation. Stability is the key word to all of this, because let’s face it, when Dale Jr and Danica can’t lock up a sponsor for the whole season, there’s trouble. Paul Menard, the man with the name on his car, races the #27 with a rotating cast of co-sponsors to go along with his glorious neon yellow. The finances of the sport just aren’t the same that they were back in NASCAR’s growth spurt when even the smallest teams could get full season sponsors.

But even with a different sponsorship landscape, the stars of the sport never will run a blank white car. Dale Jr, Edwards, Harvick, Keselowski, Logano… they’ll always have sponsors. And their car owners, Hendrick, Roush, Hass, Penske, have other successful business ventures to fall back on. (Cars, cars, CNC machinery, rental trucks) Even Ron Devine, the principal owner of BK Racing, has a fall back business with his large amount of Burger King franchises, hence the constant Burger King paint schemes in the early days when he first took over the Red Bull team.

Boris Said in the #32 Go FAS car at Watkins Glen 2015
Boris Said in the #32 Go FAS car at Watkins Glen 2015

The biggest benefit of the charter’s stability is going to be the Tommy Baldwins, the Levines, the Go FAS Racings… The teams that are clawing their way up from the basement of NASCAR the hard way. Sponsors are more likely to cut a check to a team when they know that team is going to make it into the show. The teams can leverage that guarantee into a better deal for the sponsors. This gives the smaller teams more access to a steady cash flow, which will get them better resources, which can make them more competitive and shrink the gap between the front of the field and the rear.

Pretty sure this was the intent of the Race Team Alliance straight from the get go and I am most definitely not going out on a limb guessing that this will be the outcome.

Let’s also talk about shrinking the field down to 40 cars.

There are people who are going to moan about this one but I don’t think they should. Speedweeks starts real soon and there are only 41 cars on the entry list for the Daytona 500 (as of writing this). How bad would that look if NASCAR doesn’t have a full field for its premier race? And keep in mind that the 41 car entry list includes two extra cars for BK Racing that they do not plan on racing full time (One for Robert Richardson Jr and one for Michael Waltrip driving one of the cars from his old team) and a second car for Levine-Circle Sport so both McDowell and Ty Dillon can run Daytona. A bunch of the minnow teams that started out last season don’t exist anymore like the #44 Team Xxxtreme and their stolen car. BK Racing and Front Row are only fielding 2 full time cars this year instead of three. So the cars which filled those last couple slots week in and week out, just aren’t there.

Xfinity and Trucks contracted their fields a couple years ago. I am not surprised that Cup followed suit. Frankly, I’d much rather see 40 cars running solid speeds than a couple more riding around logging laps.

wood bros logoSo those are all good things, but let’s return to the biggest travesty of the charter system.

The Wood Brothers are out in the cold.

They will be racing for one of the four Open Spots along with Premium’s #62 (cause of the lease to HScott), Mike Hillman’s #40 (who talked about how he’s really annoyed that he was left out too with all the work he put in to get as far as he has) and whoever else decides to roll in for the week.

In all honesty, I don’t think that the Wood Brothers car is going to have problems qualifying for races. They are getting factory backing from Ford and have a proper alliance with Penske now. I know I am not alone in picking Blaney to win Rookie of the Year. I think he should run in the top 15 consistently and contend for wins at his top performing tracks and plate races.

The biggest downside that I see in this stage of the charter system, is how easy will it be for a team like the Wood Brothers or someone new all together to get into the sport?

There is a mysterious performance clause in the charter system. I wish there was more broadcast about it at this point.

Ideally, I would love to see a system similar to the promotion-relegation system that European soccer leagues use.

If you’re a club playing in the English Premier League and you finish in the last three spots in the league, 17th through 20th, you get demoted to a lower league. If you’re in that lower league, the Football Championship, and you finish in the top three spots, you get promoted to top flight. Now, money matters (a lot) in English soccer, but in theory, you can go from a weekend pub team and get promoted all the way up to the top of the game with enough time, money, and performance.

There is no reason NASCAR can’t do the same.

I don’t mean that teams get bounced around between Xfinity and Cup, but rather, you can lose or gain a charter based off your performance relative to everyone else.

For example, let’s talk about the Wood Brothers again. I fully expect Blaney to have a top 20 season in the points and could qualify for the Chase. Now, let’s pick a team and call them Charter Team A so we don’t pick on anyone, and those guys have a real stinker of a season and finish last out of the 36 charters. The Charter Team A would get bumped out and the Wood Brothers would be in.

Now, this is almost identical to the Top 35 rule that everyone hated back in the day. But it’s better so we don’t want to leave it just like this. We also don’t want one streak of bad luck or a fluke plate win to alter the landscape of the sport too much. So let’s take this promotion-relegation idea and have it average out over three years. So the Wood Brothers would need to still attempt every race for three years straight, just like the time frame given for the original charters.

So it would work out like this…
2016 – Wood Brothers, 19th, Charter Team A, 36th
2017 – Wood Brothers, 13th, Charter Team A, 30th
2018 – Wood Brothers, 12th, Charter Team A, 34th

After three years, the average points standing finish for the Wood Brothers is 14.6. The average points finish for Charter Team A is 33.3. As the bottom of the three year average, Charter Team A would get relegated to having to fight for Open Slots and the Wood Brothers would get a hold of the vacant charter.

“But what about GoFAS Rac- … er … Charter Team A? They don’t get that guaranteed money anymore!”

True. NASCAR could implement a parachute payment in that case. That’s taking another cue from English soccer. When the EPL’s 20th place team gets demoted to a lower league, they receive a parachute payment to compensate them for lost television revenue. NASCAR can easily make it operate the same way. Of course, this leads to a phenomenon in English soccer where a handful of teams tend to yo-yo back and forth between the Premier League and the Football Championship. The teams who get demoted down frequently have more cash to be successful thanks to the parachute payment as opposed to the teams stuck in the middle of the lower tier standings.

And as soon as Charter Team A gets demoted, their three year clock starts. Attempt every race, out pace someone with a charter, and you’re back in.

I think that a system like this is the best way to let new blood have access to these charters on a performance basis rather than just the deep pockets (discounting the already deep pockets required to out perform anyone on the track).

Unfortunately, I think it is very much a pipe dream. The American sports fan does not really like things like that. Promotion and relegation is very much a European concept and as much as I want it to, I think it’s unlikely that it will take hold in the US.

(Side note, part of that is due to infrastructure. Most US sports don’t have the massive amounts of teams that European soccer does that would make a system like that work. I do think it could work in sports with robust minor leagues, ice hockey, basketball, and, the most likely candidate, baseball. But baseball is the only sport in America with enough of a tradition to just shake its fist at the clouds while shooting itself in the foot with sucky basement teams)

Like a lot of things in NASCAR, whether the charter system is good or bad needs to be given time to feel it out. It’s been two days. We can’t judge how well the system will function when the public doesn’t even know all the ins and outs of it. And even if we did, how those ins and outs work in reality is yet to be seen.

Charters have shaken up the sport (to the point that the New York Times covered it) so we need to give it a chance to breathe. At the same time, these are all changes and thought experiments on the back end of things. The product on the track? That’s still the important part since we’re not NASCAR team owners.

Unless a NASCAR team owner is reading this. Then Hi!

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