Franchising in NASCAR:
Is it the right way to go?
Photo by Benjamin Palmer/TheRacingExperts.com
Joey Logano leads the field into Turn 1 at Phoenix International Raceway in March 2015.
By Brandon Caldwell
November 19, 2015
DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.
The talk about franchising in NASCAR is nothing new for the sport. It’s been going on a long time, even when Ricky Rudd ran his own team in the 1990s, he was talking about NASCAR having to “franchise” teams into the sport.
According to an article on ESPN.com by NASCAR writer, Bob Pockrass, NASCAR is looking into franchising for the 2016 season.
Pockrass’ article is a good one, and goes into descriptive details about what NASCAR may be doing with the new chartering systems for teams.
It’s getting late in the season, and I believe a lot of what Pockrass has presented to us, based on his sources, and his history, is most likely what we’re going to have going forward, with possible minor tweaks here and there before it’s officially rolled out. But if you look at teams’ plans for 2016, they seem to already know what’s going on.
Two examples are Kurt Busch’s No. 41 team, and the Go Green Racing No. 32 Ford. It was announced earlier this week that Busch has signed on a new sponsor for 2016, Monster Energy, and they will be a co-primary sponsor for the 2016 season along with Haas Automation.
Go Green Racing announced earlier this season that young driver, Jeffrey Earnhardt will be taking the helm of the No. 32 Ford for the majority of the races in 2016.
Why are these two moves significant? Well the first one with Kurt Busch is, according to Pockrass’ article, and the lay out of the charters, Kurt Busch will not have one. According to the article, each team that has competed on a full-time bases in the last three seasons of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will be awarded a charter, essentially locking them into the field.
Kurt Busch’s team started up before the 2014 season, and does not fit that criteria. So they’re going to be looking to possibly purchase one of the two charters that will be held by Michael Waltrip Racing.
I would think that the new money being brought in by Monster Energy would certainly help them with that purchase. Maybe that’s why they were seeking sponsor in the first place.
The Go Green scenario is on the opposite spectrum.
Rob Kauffman (white polo) points to Brian Vickers' car at Phoenix International Raceway in March 2015.
Jeffrey Earnhardt is a young driver, who doesn’t have a lot of experience in stock cars. One full season with JD Motorsorts, in the Xfinity Series, and that’s really it, and now he’s going Cup racing.
No doubt, bringing sponsor Can Am is what has helped Jeffrey’s cause in landing a Sprint Cup ride, with such little experience. So why would that 32 car, which is already missing races, hire someone with such little experience? Because they’re not going to have to worry about owner’s points due to them being locked into the show with a charter.
So it’s clear that these teams know what’s going to happen going forward. Also, Jeffrey can gain that valuable experience in the Sprint Cup car that’s needed, with no penalty if he doesn’t run great in his early races.
So that makes Pockrass’ article even more realistic, that this is going to happen for 2016, and not any later.
According to those stipulations, 36 teams will be locked in with charters. Among those 36 are two cars currently in the Michael Waltrip Racing stables, which will be closing up shop after the 2015 season.
Two big race teams do not fit that criteria. One is the 41 of Kurt Busch, and the other is the No. 19 car driven by Carl Edwards at Joe Gibbs Racing. Remember, that team started up before this season, and doesn’t fit that criteria either.
So that means that those two teams (which by far have a much higher budget than the others without charters) are most likely going to buy each one of those charters, especially now that the 41 car has extra cash to throw around.
The other full-time teams who would be without a charter are the 26 of BK Racing, which started last season as Swan Racing, and was then purchased by BK Racing. Also, the 35 car of Cole Whitt, which started up before 2015. The 40 car of Landon Cassill will also not have one, as it started mid-way through the 2013 season. And the last charter-less full-time entry would be the 46 at HScott Motorsports, which also started before the 2015 season.
Photo by Brian DeGruchy/TheRacingExperts.com
Mike Bliss (32) leads a pack of cars at Phoenix International Raceway in March 2015.
Premium Motorsports would have a charter for each of their teams. The 98 car is what was Phil Parsons Racing, and the 62 car, used to be the 36 at Tommy Baldwin Racing. Each of those teams have attempted every race of the 2015 schedule, and would be locked in. That’s an opportunity for team owner, Jay Robinson to possibly sell either one of those charters to bigger teams in the future.
One of those teams who also could be looking to buy would be the Wood Brothers, because of driver Ryan Blaney, and their association with Team Penske. If the price is right for Roger Penske and the Wood Bros, they could be looking to buy one of the charters that Robinson would have in his possession.
Does your head hurt yet?
And there’s still more to this. A lot more.
According to the article, Pockrass pointed out that NASCAR is looking to trim the field from 43 cars to 40 cars. So that means 36 cars locked into the race because of charters, and four other spots for teams without charters.
There are many reasons for shortening the field. One of them is of course, the almighty dollar. If NASCAR shortens the field, but not the purse, there would be more money to go around for each team, per race. Also being mentioned is the television money. Currently that money is distributed on how team’s run. Now they’re going to divvy it up evenly among the field, regardless of where each team will finish.
Now that is the logistics of the franchising that NASCAR could introduce. Let’s break down whether or not this is good for the sport.
What this system will do will benefit the current full-time teams at the Sprint Cup level. This system however will not be beneficial to the current part-time teams, or the teams without charters for 2016.
For example, the teams currently locked in with the chartering system, for a lot of the smaller teams, especially. They can hire literally, whoever they want for their ride. No matter their skill level, or desire to win.
The “Ride Buyers” will be more prevalent than ever, because as a team locked into the race, and the chartering system not being based on performance, and owner’s points not mattering on whether or not a team makes the race.
That’s also, just like everything else in the sport, a pro and a con. The “pro” is, it keeps the team in business. It keeps them afloat, without penalty for running poorly. People remain employed, and teams stay in business. Also, being locked in, they can start a second team that doesn’t have a charter, and wouldn’t go out of business because their other car is locked in.
Also, there is no penalty in going for a win. For example, Go Green Racing has veteran Bobby Labonte hired for the 4 plate races next season. Bobby is the 2000 Series champion, and he’s got the skill to win. But what he’s done is miss the wrecks. It’s part of the reason why Go Green likes to hire Bobby for the plate races. He falls to the back of the pack, and goes around the wrecks and uses attrition to get the best finish possible. And it works. With owner’s points being so precious on making races, top-25 finishes for a team like that are huge.
With the current chartering system, not having to worry about owner’s points is a positive in the sense that he will no longer “points race” on the plate races, and can just go for the win. It will benefit competition in that way.
The con is that race fans don’t see the side of the business that keeps people employed. Race fans see the performance side of the business. Hiring drivers with less talent, and a ton of money, doesn’t help the product on the race track. This could potentially hurt the racing in that sense.
Also, the teams without charters also have no reason to be successful. I understand with the TV money being more spread out among all teams, the teams will have more money than ever coming from the purse. However, when NASCAR had the top-35 rule, we used to see a lot of start and park teams, because running the races was becoming irrelevant.
Going from 38th to 37th in owners points, if 35th was out of reach, made no sense because it didn’t pay to run the races and get the extra spot in points. That’s also what’s going to happen here.
Photo by Dante Ricci/TheRacingExperts.com
Alex Bowman turns laps at Pocono Raceway in July 2015. The No. 7 car would obtain a charter with the new proposed system.
If a team has no incentive to run, and it doesn’t have a sponsor for that week, what’s the point of possibly running the extra 120 laps, to gain one spot and hope for attrition? They wouldn’t! They didn’t then, and they won’t now.
Since Kurt Busch’s team, and Carl Edwards’ team can purchase the charters, even though they don’t fit the criteria, then so can any other team that also doesn’t fit the criteria, anyone, including the Wood Brothers, if they decide to run full-time, would be able to purchase one of the charters.
The franchising will bring in more money to the teams, including the smaller teams with the television money being evenly among the teams with charters. That’s where the big teams will get hurt in this. The bigger teams, since the TV money will be evenly dispersed, will lose that money when they’re running towards the front.
But that’s a chance they’re willing to take, since this will be valuable to any owner looking to buy their “franchise” if they lose their sponsorship one day.
The final, and maybe the most interesting thing in Pockrass’ article was towards the end, and that was the fact that NASCAR could be looking into scaling back the maximum number of cars each organization is allowed to have. NASCAR is looking to have teams go from a four car maximum to a three car maximum. It would be a great way for teams to not get too big, which is one of the reasons why this business model became a problem to begin with.
Teams outpriced the sport. They spent money on research and development. This would calm down with three car teams, to an extent. We will still see the subsidiary teams that these big teams have control of, sure. But this is all NASCAR can do to limit the big conglomerate teams, and some teams, just like some people get in trouble by getting too big, too fast.
It’s almost as if NASCAR needs to save teams from themselves. And that’s why this three car limit would be a good move down the road. Teams like Hendrick Motorsports, Stewart-Haas Racing, Richard Childress Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing, the current four car teams, would need to be a three car team by a certain date. Right there is three charters open possibly for smaller teams that they could go in and buy.
All in all, this franchising in NASCAR could be a good thing for the sport. However, it could also be a very bad thing. If we see more start and park teams, and nothing is based on performance, this could be something very bad.
If money is all that matters, teams could start and park and make money, even with charters. That’s something that I think we could see that could be very bad for our sport. There is no perfect system, and it’s something that we may just have to live with in the future of the sport. Unless there is some sort of emphasis on performance, which isn’t likely at this stage, that’s just a negative repercussion we will get out of all this.
Also, the days of an owner coming into the sport out of nowhere and starting a team and having success, are over. But those have been over for a long, long time anyway, let’s keep that in mind.
Even Jay Robinson of Premium Motorsports has an investor at this stage in the game. He has to. And since that’s the case, maybe this is necessary. Any new owners coming into this sport will need to have a ton of dollars to buy a franchise, and be successful in NASCAR.
Ultimately, the business model of NASCAR needs to be a successful one. If the current business model was a successful one, Michael Waltrip Racing wouldn’t be closing up shop. NASCAR needs to make this more profitable to the teams, the showing up to the tracks and going racing and taking home that money needs to be profitable, or this franchising system will mean nothing.
If there’s no money to be made in that aspect of the sport, why buy a charter to begin with?