NASCAR announced a dramatic overhaul to its business model Tuesday, shifting to a franchise-like system that is intended to provide actual value and financial stability to team owners after decades of heavy reliance on sponsors.
The change gets away from the independent contractor model that had been used since NASCAR's 1948 inception. A car owner was responsible for all the financial obligations to race each week, depending on sponsorship to help foot the bills. When a sponsor pulled its funding, a car owner could go broke and be left with nothing but racing equipment.
Michael Waltrip Racing had nothing but old cars, used equipment and a building to sell when it closed in November. Now MWR has two of the 36 coveted "charters" and the ability to sell them to the highest bidder. A charter guarantees revenue and a position in what will now be a 40-car Sprint Cup field, down from 43.
MWR co-owner Rob Kauffman, the architect of the Race Team Alliance group that brokered the deal with NASCAR, indicated his two charters will be sold before the Feb. 21 season-opening Daytona 500.
One is expected to go to Joe Gibbs Racing for Carl Edwards' car, the other to Stewart-Haas Racing for Kurt Busch.
Every organization is allowed a maximum of four charters. But in order to get one of the 36, a car had to attempt every race since 2013. Busch and Edwards both drive for recently added teams.
Kauffman estimated the current worth of a charter is "single digit millions."
The charters are good for nine years and there is a performance clause tied to them. Selling or transferring a charter is only allowed once in a five-year period.
Potential new team owners must be vetted by NASCAR before a sale for a new charter can be completed, and NASCAR will collect an administrative fee in the process.