Roger Diez: Fernley volunteer meeting set for Feb. 27
For the Nevada Appeal
First off, I have to apologize for a typo in last week’s column. For some reason, keyboard designers put the “1” and the “2” keys next to each other, resulting in my hitting the wrong one. The Fernley 95A volunteer meeting will be held at noon on Feb. 27 not Feb. 17 at the track.
Tonight is the first race of the season for NASCAR Sprint Cup teams, the invitational Sprint Unlimited. The race is open to Daytona pole winners, Chase drivers from 2015, and previous winners of the event. In related news, Stewart-Haas Racing has announced Brian Vickers takes the seat of Tony Stewart’s No. 14 for Daytona only, and Vickers has been cleared medically by NASCAR. Stewart is still recuperating from surgery following a back injury suffered in an ATV accident. NASCAR has decided to allow the No. 14 car to run in the Sprint Unlimited, even though eligibility is determined by driver rather than by car. Rumor also has it Ty Dillon will replace Stewart in races where the car has Bass Pro Shops sponsorship until Tony can return.
Overshadowing tonight’s race was an announcement made on Tuesday of a fundamental change in the way NASCAR and its Sprint Cup teams do business. After years of talk about a franchise system for teams similar to the system used by other major league sports (baseball, football, basketball, and hockey), NASCAR has implemented a charter system, issuing 36 charters to established teams. Charter teams will have a guaranteed starting spot in races, limiting the opportunities for independent teams to qualify. Further exacerbating this situation, NASCAR has reduced the size of the Sprint Cup starting fields to 40 cars versus the 43 of previous years.
The breakdown of charters is as follows: Hendrick Motorsports — 4; Richard Childress Racing — 3; Roush Fenway Racing — 3; Joe Gibbs Racing — 3; Stewart-Hass Racing — 3; Team Penske — 2; Richard Petty Motorsports — 2; Chip Ganassi Racing — 2; Front Row Motorsports — 2; Michael Waltrip Racing — 2; BK Racing — 2; Furniture Row Racing, JTG Daugherty Racing, Tommy Baldwin Racing, Germain Racing, Go Fas Racing, Premium Motorsports, HScott Motorsports, and Circle Sport Racing — 1 each.
It’s notable neither the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 Toyota of Carl Edwards nor the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevy of Kurt Busch are chartered teams. Those drivers will have to compete for one of the four open spots every week. But what I find most interesting is Michael Waltrip Racing, which closed its doors at the end of the 2015 season, has two charters. Obviously those are for sale, and may very well be sold to the two teams just mentioned, or to the Wood Brothers’ No. 21 car, which is also charterless. And, that’s the reason for the charter system from an owner’s point of view. Rather than get only what the shops and equipment would bring when a team closes its doors, the owners are now be able to recoup their investment by selling a valuable commodity, their franchise.
There has been mixed reaction from fans, as is the case with any change NASCAR makes. Some love it, some hate it, and a few are neutral. Having been on the wrong side too many times, I’m going to adopt a wait and see attitude and watch how it all shakes out. Obviously it’s a good business move from an owner’s standpoint. It also gives the teams more input into decisions about rules and competition through a Team Owner Council. Charters are issued on a nine-year agreement, which gives the teams the ability to plan long-term. At the same time, NASCAR has begun issuing five-year agreements with the tracks on the schedule, also giving them a more stable situation in which to plan.
Car numbers for most of the charter teams will remain the same, with a few exceptions. The No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports car will be No. 44 for 2016; the Front Row Motorsports’ No. 35 will be No. 34; Circle Sport Racing’s No. 33 will run as No. 95; and the HScott Motorsports’ No. 51 will change to No. 15.