NASCAR: With Charters In Place, Breaking Up Teams Is Next?

Apr 9, 2016; Fort Worth, TX, USA; Sprint Cup Series driver Carl Edwards (19) and driver Martin Truex Jr. (78) and driver Matt Kenseth (20) lead the rest of the field on a restart during the Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 9, 2016; Fort Worth, TX, USA; Sprint Cup Series driver Carl Edwards (19) and driver Martin Truex Jr. (78) and driver Matt Kenseth (20) lead the rest of the field on a restart during the Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

As NASCAR fans and media enjoy the afterglow of Matt DiBenedetto’s sixth place finish at Bristol, is it really a sign that NASCAR needs a major change? Did NASCAR just pave the way to change at the request of the owners?

After enjoying the moment of watching the post race interviews with DiBenedetto I remembered a line from the movie Little Big League, “Don’t you think there is something wrong when you get that excited about a seeing eye single?”. It was a sixth place finish at a short track. Is it really that big of a deal that a full time cup driver scored a top ten finish as a track like Bristol?

The super teams have become so dominant in our sport it is a surprise that an outsider can break into the top ten. The HMS, JGR, SHR, RFR, RCR and Penske Racing teams make up 20 cars in the weekly field but are all in the top 26 in owners points. Three of the six that have made there way into this group, Wood Brothers, Furniture Row Racing and JTG Daugherty racing all have close alliances with one of the super teams. Only Chip Gannasi racing and Richard Petty Motorsports can break in the group, but not very well.

There is a concept of scaling, where the larger you get you don’t have to multiply exponentially. To put it more simply, say for example, if it takes 50 people to operate a single car team, it will only take 80 people to operate at two car team at the same level. That ratio continues to drop until you hit the four team maximum. The four car teams have an advantage in personnel that smaller teams will never have. The can hire a group of engineers and programmers to support four teams, buy more equipment and build in house that a single or two car team can never afford.

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You might say wait, if the sponsorship money is the same why can’t they keep up? The answer is the same as the number of people needed to operate a team. If you need 15-20 million dollars to compete at the top level with a single car team, with scaling you could only need 50-60 million to operate a four car team. You don’t need to find as much sponsorship dollars for each car the more cars you have.

For years now, because of this, the dominant teams in NASCAR have had a massive technical advantage in engineering and computer simulation. With the current testing ban NASCAR has, there is no other way to get cars ready for the track. It is called baselining. Each of the organizations teams have their own set up, but with the computer simulations they can get a baseline on what the cars should do before they ever leave the shop. Then when they get to the track, if the simulations are correct, they should be able to make adjustments to the car without changing shocks or other major components to match what each driver desires. With the frequent changes NASCAR makes to the car, by the time smaller teams catch up they have to start from scratch again.

One of the arguments for the new charter system was owners invest in the sport but have no collateral other than the auction value of cars and equipment to draw upon. Now with the estimated value of a charter at around 10 million dollars, owners should be able to borrow to help build their teams. With the scaling involved with the four car teams and their alliances though, there is very little chance of anyone breaking in on their own with the value of just one team.

Since Hendrick Motorsports perfected the four car team in the early 2000’s, the idea of an independent single car team being competitive has all but vanished. As the super teams grew in strength over the last decade, the popularity of the sport has fallen. One of the complaints has been that the same teams win all the time. For the most part it is true. Is it time for NASCAR to take a step back to move forward?

For most of NASCAR’s history any one person was only allowed to own one Spring Cup entry. Reading the owners standings for the super teams you used to see names of wives or partners as the “listed owner” of cars. That remained until they quit playing the game several years ago as NASCAR placed caps on the umber of teams one owner could operate. Once that was in place the “technical alliance” craze hit with teams selling chassis, engines and even providing crews and support for satellite teams.

There are very few positives that anyone can point to in the sport since the super teams have taken hold. The fan outcry when the Wood Brothers were not awarded a charter should be an indication of how much fans want more teams in the sport, not less. NASCAR has been searching for anything to stop the sports falling popularity, and bringing in new personalities at all levels could attract new fans. The lack of personalities in the sport has caused fans to turn away and call the sport boring.

Because of the size and sponsor involvement of the super teams, drivers and owners alike walk on eggshells not to do anything that could damage their corporate relationships. With breaking up the these teams, NASCAR might be able to find its own Mark Cuban to come into the sport. An innovator that help revitalize the NBA as an owner who brought in a new generation of owner and related to the younger fan. With the shear cost involved of starting a four car team, the chances of someone stepping in and changing the sport are almost none. If two teams were the most you could own, people might come into the sport thinking the playing field is more fair.

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The boom this would create in NASCAR would be fantastic. It would open dozens of more positions at the cup level exposing more talent inside the sport. With the super teams it is a very closed market as they even provide support crews to their satellite teams. If there were at least twenty teams there would be more people inside the sport innovating. More personalities for the camera to see and fans to react to. The reduction in the size of the teams should also slow the advancement on the engineering side that NASCAR has not been able to catch up with.

As a fan of NASCAR I have been searching for something that could change the course of the sport. The racing on the track is better than it has been in years, yet more and more fans keep turning their backs on NASCAR. It is going to take something new to get people to take a fresh look at the sport, but the way its structured now there is nothing on the horizon. NASCAR has the tools to make the change, the Race Team Alliance just gave them to them. Now they need to step up and make a bold statement to reinvigorate the sport.