So the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup (and XFINITY and Camping World Truck) Series kick off officially this weekend and we already have, um, stuff.
Lots of stuff.
Probably the most game-changing thing that has happened since we last talked in November is the implementation of the Charter (née Franchise) system for Sprint Cup Series owners. As of last week, we have a much less inclusive NASCAR for anyone looking to get into the money-making scheme that is racecar ownership, one of the few endeavors that successfully makes billionaires millionaires.
Not really, but close.
After more than a year of serious work on the system that allows NASCAR team owners to have something beyond all the cars and equipment that has some value and a chance for cashing out when the ownership days are over. As it has stood, the cars and tools and haulers were worth pennies on the dollar at auction when teams folded up their tents. Don’t believe me; just ask Ricky Rudd or Ray Evernham or the good folks at Red Bull.
There are 36 Charter teams, currently from among 19 organizations. The number 36 was not pre-determined. NASCAR said they analyzed which teams showed a long-term commitment to the sport by attempting to qualify every week for the past three years. That criterion yielded 36 Charters.
A Charter guarantees entry into the field of every Sprint Cup Series points race. Qualifying speeds still determine the lineup. Sprint Cup Series fields will shift from 43 cars to 40 cars. That means 36 Charter teams are guaranteed to make every points race, and four non-Charter (or “open”) teams will complete the rest of the field. Charter owners may transfer their Charter to another team, for one full season, once over the first five years of the agreement. Charter teams are held to a minimum performance standard.
If a Charter team finishes in the bottom three of the owner standings among all 36 Charter teams for three consecutive years, NASCAR has a right to remove the charter. Teams may sell their Charters on the open market. This has already happened. Joe Gibbs bought one for Carl Edwards’ team (2015 was the first year for the No. 19 team) from now-defunct Michael Waltrip Racing. Stewart-Haas Racing bought the other one for Kurt Busch’s No. 41 team. HScott Motorsports reached an agreement for the Charter from Premium Motorsports.
Only one team, Wood Brothers Racing, plans the full Sprint Cup season sans a Charter. How’s that for irony: NASCAR’s longest-tenured team got shut out of the game because it has been part time for the last eight seasons, it gets the money to
run full time and gets hit with the Charter thing in their way. I don’t have a whole lot of worries about Ryan Blaney being able to get the car in the race every week. He has shown speed (was eighth quick in Daytona 500 qualifying last Sunday). He did miss some races they attempted last year, but it was because qualifying got rained out.
Other than the heated battles for the coveted 41st, 42nd and 43rd spots each week, this doesn’t mean a thing to the average race fan. It honestly is not that much different than the top-35 rule that NASCAR has operated under in the Sprint Cup Series since 2004.
The cars will be the same. The same people own them.
But philosophically I don’t like it. Racing has always been different than other sports. Sure money is a barrier to entry, but, technically, anyone could show up, be fast and race. Again, not much different than it was before – minus the three cars in the field – and I get owners wanting some protection of their investment, but it doesn’t feel quite right from where I sit.
Starting this year, the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series will use elimination-based playoff formats to determine their respective champions, just as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has done for the past two seasons.
The Chase formats in the two lower series will feature seven races each and two elimination rounds before the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway like the Sprint Cup boys and girl. The XFINITY Series Chase starts with 12 drivers, with four eliminated after each three-race round, leaving four drivers to race for the title at Homestead.
The highest finisher among those four in the finale is the champion.
In the trucks, eight drivers will qualify for the Chase, with two drivers eliminated after each three-race round, again leaving four competitors to run for the championship at Homestead.
Three words: do not like. Just like the Sprint Cup, it’s a contrived way to build excitement. Each of those series had great championship battles in 2015 that came down to Homestead anyway.
There are no more green-white-checkered finishes in NASCAR after the sanctioning body implemented the overtime line. This move was in response to the Talladega debacle last October when Kevin Harvick torpedoed the field to move onto the next round of the Chase because his engine had grenaded. It’s very simple: if the field gets to the “overtime line” on the track after taking the green at the end of a race, the next flag ends the race.
We will see how this works out.
All that being said, I am excited for the Daytona 500 and a good 2016 season. Y’all keep an eye on the Black’s Tire boys at Ricky Benton Racing (RBR) down in Columbus County. They have some good Fords and a new driver in Parker Kilgerman. They have the talent and the equipment to make some noise in the trucks this year. They are going to need some help to run the full year, but it could be a good run for the little guys if they can put it together.
Be sure you follow me on Twitter @andy_cagle for all the useless NASCAR, Walking Dead, weird Texas country/bluegrass and nuclear energy (for real) news and commentary.
Andy Cagle writes a weekly column during the NASCAR season. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.