Owners, NASCAR still working toward 'charter' deal

Under a proposed "charter' system, Len Wood, left, and Eddie Wood may not have a guaranteed spot on the grid for their Wood Brothers car as it returns to full-time Sprint Cup racing this season. Bob Leverone/NASCAR/Getty Images

NASCAR executives and team owners have said pretty much the same thing over and over and over the last six weeks when discussing the potential franchising "charter" system: They're close but not done.

Well, time is running out if they want to get it done by the start of the 2016 season.

With the Daytona 500 just four weeks away, it would seem they need to have the new structure in place in the next couple of weeks. While NASCAR can do anything, it typically lists purse money and qualifying parameters in the entry blank.

The new charter system would likely grant a specific number of teams guaranteed spots in race fields or at least a certain amount of guaranteed purse money each week. By doing that, teams could project revenues as well as have the ability to guarantee revenues to prospective buyers or investors of their teams.

Will NASCAR have 36 guaranteed spots in a 40-car field? Or will all spots be guaranteed? Can teams that don't get awarded charters obtain them by immediately buying from other teams and/or NASCAR? Or will NASCAR opt to keep 43-car fields over a transition period?

Neither NASCAR nor the owners would talk details. All they'd talk about last week during the NASCAR preseason media tour was about how close they are to and optimistic they remain about putting signatures to paper.

"I'm not going to get into specifics of the plan because we don't have it finished yet, and it's still moving around a little bit," NASCAR chairman Brian France said last week. "The timeline is sooner rather than later.

"The further we get in, the longer you have to push out in a certain season where we could [implement it]. By the way, whatever is the final arrangement should we be able to get there, this is going to be a phase where from one moment to the next, everything will be different."

The impact of the potential system has already started. Front Row Motorsports already will cut from three to two full-time teams (it likely will have two charters). Circle Sport Racing, which would have a charter thanks to its No. 33 car, partnered with the part-time Leavine Family Racing, which can now field the No. 95 car full time with the Circle Sport charter.

The question of how long a team must have run full time to earn a charter has not been answered, although the initial talks were saying three years. Mike Hillman Racing likely wouldn't get a charter and needed money to pay bills, so it ended up selling its assets to Premium Motorsports, which should have one charter.

The jockeying has begun even though owners still won't say definitively whether they actually will have a deal with NASCAR.

"I don't really know," said Rick Hendrick, one of the most successful NASCAR team owners. "I'm not a lawyer. I think there is want-to on everybody's side and this is such a landmark deal.

"When you think you've got it agreed to and you're done, then you've got to paper it. These things take time. I hope the guys can get it done by Daytona but I have no idea."

Team owner Richard Petty said most of the main points have been agreed to and characterized the work last week as "75 percent" done. France said he remains "very optimistic."

"When two sides want something to happen, generally, you can find a way," said defending Cup championship owner Joe Gibbs. "I will say this: There's a lot left to be done. I think we would look certainly more favorable than we do negative [getting it done]."

Roush Fenway Racing president Steve Newmark, vice chairman for the Race Team Alliance coalition of team owners, said if they can't get the deal done by Daytona, it could be difficult to implement it during the year.

"It is unbelievably fluid," Newmark said about the details. "I won't get into details but it's not different than any other deal I've worked on. ... You have to mold it and you have to make changes.

"It doesn't mean that there are arguments about things. Reasonable people may differ on which direction. But the other thing you have got to keep in mind is you're trying to account for the law of unintended consequences. You're really trying to sit down and think through all the ramifications of these changes."

Newmark indicated that talks continue constantly as both NASCAR and team officials try to work in talks amid doing their regular jobs.

"It's not a simple process," he said. "People are pretty conscientious and we want to try to do the best job we can to get this right and so I think that's part of what is taking the length of time.

"[Some] people are like, 'Why don't you just agree on a few of the points and move forward?' I wish it was that simple. It's just not the case."

If it does get done, it will mark a significant change in the way NASCAR does business. It has typically had an open door as far as new team owners trying to break into the sport. Now those opportunities to make races (and earn a purse that could help a team piece a season together) could be limited for those without charters.

The Wood Brothers are one team that will move from part-time status to full-time status. They likely wouldn't have a guaranteed spot. Team co-owner Len Wood said as far as he knows, there will be 43 starting spots at Daytona and he would think that "running all the races, that should take care of [qualifying issues]. ... I hope."

Ford has a significant financial stake in the Wood Brothers as a sponsor of its car. Ford Performance director Dave Pericak said NASCAR has not given him any assurances that the new system would include ways for non-charter teams to earn spots.

"All those details are still being worked out," Pericak said. "I couldn't imagine a Ford Motor Company without a Mustang and I sure as hell can't imagine this sport without the Wood Brothers.

"We will have to sort through that other issue as it unfolds and as they finalize whatever that's going to look like. We're committed. The Wood Brothers are committed. Penske [with its alliance] is committed. At the end of the day, we'll figure out how to keep the Wood Brothers in the sport."

France indicated that the new system could make it so that those looking to enter the sport will have a better chance of being competitive if they can obtain a charter from one of the teams awarded a charter in the initial plan.

"We wouldn't do anything that we didn't think in the long run would make racing better, would field more opportunities, create an environment for more owners, more capital in this very expensive sport, to have a better experience in fielding the race teams week in and week out," France said.

While France can say that, few will be convinced until the plan is unveiled that it has the potential to create more stable, more predictable financial and performance experiences.

"I can't go into the details on it because there's still so much unknowns that they're still trying to work out," said team owner Richard Childress. "We're working hard to get it done. There's still a lot of work to do."

Talking with owners, it appears that the work they have to do can get done as long as they don't hit a significant snag.

"I'd say this is a long-term business relationship we're trying to develop and it has to be done carefully," said team owner and business mogul Roger Penske. "It has to be done the right way and we have to think about all the constituents, and I think that's what's going on.

"So I feel very good about it and hopefully we'll have an outcome here shortly."