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NASCAR 101: The Hidden Race to Just Survive

Every driver who competes at NASCAR’s highest level has displayed their talents proving them worthy of belonging at such a high echelon.

But did you know that the organizations that build the cars they drive also have to prove their worth?

Anyone who has paid some semblance of attention to the NASCAR Cup Series in the last few years probably has heard something about charters. They are the 36 golden tickets for race teams. Organizations that possess charters have a guarantee that their car will have a starting spot in every Cup race without running the risk of getting booted via qualifications from a set field limited to 40 cars. Charters also guarantee teams a chunk of a race’s huge purse.

Teams have either earned charters for their longevity and history in the sport when the system was first implemented in 2016 or purchased them from another team.

Nevertheless, few might realize that an organization can forcibly lose a charter. While this has never happened before, NASCAR does have the option to revoke a charter if a team finishes in the bottom three in the points standings for three consecutive seasons and give it or sell it to a different team (similar to English Premier League soccer).

There is a team in major jeopardy of doing just that.

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Rick Ware Racing’s No. 51 has earned only 97 points so far in 2023, which ranks the entry 34th in points. RWR elected to legally swap owner points prior to the season with its other entry, the No. 15, a car that has also struggled to crack the top 33.

Thus, with 35th- and 34th-place points finishes in 2021 and 2022, the No. 51 runs the risk of its charter being revoked if it were to stay in the bottom 33 come season’s end for a third consecutive time. If it loses the charter, tremendous financial losses could come as large purse money is all but guaranteed, jeopardizing the future of its existence.

The good news for RWR is that the season is still young. A strong 11th-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway last weekend by JJ Yeley brought the No. 51 up to just 11 points behind 33rd-place Legacy Motor Club’s No. 42 and just 19 behind the 32nd-place No. 15. It is also starting to gap the bottom two teams in owner points: the 35th-place Spire Motorsports No. 77 (81 points) and 36th-place No. 78 Live Fast Motorsports No. 78 (74 points).

However, there is plenty of bad news. All consistency was lost for the No. 51 after its full-time driver Cody Ware was suspended earlier this month following an arrest for alleged domestic violence. While most chartered teams have a full-time driver, Ware’s suspension has left a rotating door of substitutes to fill the seat which is in desperate need of some good finishes.

Yeley is slated as the driver for this weekend’s contest at Dover Motor Speedway. His good outing at Talladega certainly helped the entry close the crucial point gap, but it was only his first outing in the entry this season after competing in several races driving the team’s No. 15. This was in direct competition to its sister entry, as he helped get the No. 15 above the top 33 cutline while the embattled No. 51 still sits below it.

Even more concerning, this revolving door of drivers is not set to end anytime soon for both RWR entries. Brennan Poole will make his first start of the season driving the No. 15 this weekend and Todd Gilliland is slated to make four more starts for the team after competing with it at Phoenix Raceway. Jenson Button is scheduled for a few more races, too. Matt Crafton, Riley Herbst, Zane Smith and Yeley have all hopped in and out, meaning that no one driver can fully take control and climb out of the charter problem.

The problems get even worse when one looks at history. Both RWR entries finished below the top 33 last year. In 2021, when the team fielded four cars, every single one finished 33rd or worse.

While there is much speculation on whether NASCAR will actually follow through with a revoking, RWR has the freedom to sandbag its No. 15 to let the No. 51 up into the top 33. However, if caught, RWR runs the risk of massive fines and penalties.

And if there is anyone who knows about this, it would be RWR. The organization was fined and docked owner points following the 2019 season after it was found to have conspired with two other teams to manipulate their finishing positions in the last race of the season so that all parties could have an owner points advantage over a fourth team.

However, if RWR stays in its current position, there are likely several teams who are in line to position NASCAR to revoke the charter and sell it to them.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the highest profile and most vocal, as he has repeatedly expressed interest in moving his JR Motorsports team up to the Cup Series only to be frustrated by a lack of available and affordable charters.

Other teams with charters such as 23XI Racing and Kaulig Racing have showcased interest in expanding with more charters.

There are even some outliers such as 3F Racing who also are on the charter hunt, albeit more longshots to actually land one.

While our eyes often keep our gaze at the front of the field, the battle at the back in 2023 is one of life and death. If RWR doesn’t survive the charter points battle in 2023, a 15-time NASCAR Most Popular Driver might just use lessons learned from his father to enter the series as an owner.

That may make a lot of people happy.

About the author

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Never at a loss for words, Zach Gillispie is a young, talented marketing professional from North Carolina who talks and writes on the side about his first love: racing! Since joining Frontstretch in 2018, Zach has served in numerous roles where he currently pens the NASCAR 101 column, a weekly piece delving into the basic nuts and bolts of the sport. Additionally, his unabashedly bold takes meshed with that trademarked dry wit of his have made Zach a fan favorite on the weekly Friday Faceoff panel. In his free time, he can be found in the great outdoors, actively involved in his church, cheering on his beloved Atlanta Braves or ruthlessly pestering his colleagues with completely useless statistics about Delma Cowart.

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6 Comments
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Echo

So you think every cup driver today has proven they are worthy of driving in Nascar’s upper echelon. I think you are very wrong.

John

The day Nascar pulls a charter from a team is the day an alternative series will take flight in the same fashion as the Indy Car coup to place years ago. Nascar’s reluctance actually allow owners to unconditionally buy charters limits the growth of value and reduces opportunities for their value to grow. By next February, this will be the only “story line.”

Bill B

If Dale Jr wants a charter than buy one at the current rate or STFU. Wasn’t the purpose of the charters to ensure that owners of teams have some return on their years of investment? So what’s the problem? When someone wants to own an NFL or MLB team they don’t whine about the price, they pay it. If a team is forced to sell their charter because of lack of performance, they should still be able to get a fair price for their charter.

Last edited 1 year ago by Bill B
Christopher

Until a new TV deal is concluded the market value of charters is unpredictable. NASCAR might not even keep the charter system (it’s due to expire). And long term what good are they anyway? The entire sport could very well collapse in the next 5 years, with manufacturers eliminating (being forced to by government edict) internal combustion vehicles. Why would the manufacturers stay in NASCAR? Whats NASCAR going to race, electric SUV’s? What’s GM going to race, a Corvette facsimile? It’s their last car, all other offerings are SUV’s and Trucks. The sport as it has existed for 75 years is in a death spiral.

J.W. Farmer

I appreciate the independent owners such as Rick Ware but honestly, NASCAR could easily have Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the sport by simply adding 2 charters to create 38. The other times would simply have to take a little less money or maybe, cut that family member they have on payroll.

DoninAjax

They could also have Jr. if they got rid of the charters, which were just a cash grab in the first place. Imagine that! NA$CAR finding another way to get income from the race teams! I’m sure they get their hands on money from the parts suppliers .

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