Carl Edwards’ legion of NASCAR fans needn’t fear.
Although it’s true that Edwards’ year-old race team wasn’t among those granted one of 36 charters in a sweeping restructuring of NASCAR’s business model, a spokesman for Joe Gibbs Racing said a deal is in the works to obtain one of two charters granted to now-defunct Michael Waltrip Racing.
“We are working to finalize the transaction,” Joe Gibbs Racing vice president of communication Chris Helein wrote in an email to The Star. “As I understand it, it is just a matter of some final paperwork.”
NASCAR announced sweeping changes at a news conference Tuesday in Charlotte, N.C., including the introduction of 36 charter teams that are guaranteed entry into each Sprint Cup Series points race.
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The field for the Sprint Cup Series’ 36-race season also has been dropped from 43 cars to 40, leaving four open slots each week for noncharter teams.
“This is a very complicated agreement to sort out with 60 years of history doing business in a certain way,” NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France said. “To restructure things in the manner that we did was a very tall order to accomplish. … We believe we made the team owner model more reliable, more stable, more open — more open to new investors, more capital to come into the sport.”
Theoretically, guaranteed participation creates a more settled budget picture during the term of the charter, providing team owners more flexibility to build something akin to a franchise. It also provides more stability for NASCAR’s all-important sponsors, which stakeholders hope will spur increased investment in the sport.
Additionally, the business model increases the revenue share for team owners and establishes the Team Owner Council, which will bring more synergy between NASCAR’s sanctioning body and the team owners along with the track ownership groups, who each signed five-year race agreements last fall.
“The owners, we don’t understand how NASCAR works, OK?” said Richard Petty, the winningest driver in Sprint Cup history and co-owner of Richard Petty Motorsports. “They don’t know how the race teams work, so now we’re going to be in the same room talking about the same problems and solving the problems together. From that standpoint, it’s going to be one of the greatest things that’s ever happened to NASCAR and Cup racing.”
NASCAR’s 2016 season begins Sunday with qualifying for the Daytona 500, a process that just got much simpler for 36 teams.
“I think we focused on three key principles: participation, economics, governance,” Chip Ganassi Racing co-owner Rob Kauffman said. “That’s the foundation stones for how this new system works.”
Edwards, a Columbia native, left Roush Fenway Racing after the 2014 season and signed on with Joe Gibbs Racing, which added a fourth Sprint Cup team for the 2015 campaign.
As a result, it did not qualify for a charter, which were granted to teams that had been in continuous operation for the last three seasons.
Kurt Busch, who drives the fourth car for Stewart-Haas Racing, also was caught by the same provision. He left Furniture Row Racing after the 2013 season to join Stewart-Haas’ new team.
Stewart-Haas is expected to receive the second transfer from Michael Waltrip Racing, maxing out the race team’s limit of four charters.
“A basic tenet of this is use it or lose it,” said Kauffman, who controls the Michael Waltrip Racing charters as the outfit’s former majority owner. “If you’re not going to race, you’re not going to have it. For those two slots to be available, those will have to be transferred before Daytona. I think it’s very likely JGR and Stewart-Haas will probably be acquiring those in the not-too-distant future.”
The charters effectively provide a tangible stake in NASCAR for team owners. The current charter are nine-year agreements that coincide with the multibillion-dollar TV rights deals NASCAR has signed with Fox and NBC Sports through the 2024 season.
Hendrick Motorsports was granted four charters. Joe Gibbs Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing were each given three charters and are expected to add a fourth.
Richard Childress Racing and Roush Fenway Racing each have three charters, and Richard Petty Motorsports, Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing, Front Row Motorsports and BK Racing were granted two charters apiece.
Furniture Row Racing, JTG Daugherty Racing, Tommy Baldwin Racing, Germain Racing, Go Fas Racing, Premium Motorsports, Circle Sport Racing and HScott Motorsports each landed one charter.
Emporia, Kan., native Clint Bowyer, who drove for Michael Waltrip Racing last season, is with HScott Motorsports this season and will take over Stewart-Haas’ No. 14 car in 2017 after three-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart retires.
The biggest name set to race for a noncharter team is Ryan Blaney, who joined Wood Brothers Racing’s new full-time team for 2016.
As a new team, Wood Brothers wasn’t granted a charter and Blaney will have to vie for one of the four open spots each week unless another charter becomes available for transfer.
Not every team was thrilled with NASCAR’s announcement. That group includes Hillman Racing, which has fielded a team in the NASCAR Camping World Trucks Series since 2012 and added a Sprint Cup team midway through the 2013 season.
Hillman did not meet the three-year requirement to be granted a charter, so his driver and crew also will have to jockey for one of four open slots in the race field each week.
“While we are absolutely disappointed with our exclusion from the new charter system, we have sponsors, partners and friends that have stood behind us, and for that I am truly grateful,” Hillman Racing owner and general manager Mike Hillman said in a release. “I’ve poured my heart and soul — literally my blood, sweat and tears — into building a competitive NASCAR Sprint Cup team over the past three years, and to be told one week prior to the sport’s biggest event of a complete overhaul of the framework of the Series is disheartening.”
There will be a performance clause in the charter agreement, but those details remain unclear. NASCAR plans to address other technical details on Thursday, like how the smaller field will affect the points system.
Teams will still race for the pole with field being set by qualifying times as in years past.