Did You Notice? … The number of new NASCAR team owners has slowed to a crawl in 2023? After a promising start to the year, where eight unchartered cars battled for four spots in February’s Daytona 500, the number of potential new entrants into the Cup Series has dwindled substantially.
Halfway through the regular season, that’s the last time we ran with a full 40-car field at NASCAR’s top level. We’ve seen open teams enter just five of the 13 races, the smallest number since the sport adopted the current charter system in 2016.
Those rules reduced the field from 43 to 40 while guaranteeing spots to 36 cars in the field. Up to four remaining positions are open to others, although the purse money distribution is heavily tilted toward full-time entries (NASCAR no longer publicly releases money won each week).
A quick look at those extra cars shows zero new owners have dipped their toe into Cup in 2023. The vast majority of open spots, when filled, have come from an already-established team like Kaulig Racing.
2023 OPEN NASCAR TEAMS
|36||Front Row Motorsports||2|
|84||Legacy Motor Club||2|
|50||The Money Team Racing||2|
If you’re counting at home, that’s a total of seven open teams, only one of which is not connected to a charter program (Beard Motorsports). Only 43 cars have attempted at least one Cup event, a number that would be the smallest in NASCAR history over a full season. Not exactly what was expected when the supposedly less expensive Next Gen chassis was introduced to cut costs before 2022.
But a recent trend toward streamlining ownership has also made it down to lower NASCAR divisions, too. Take the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, whose Saturday race (May 20) at North Wilkesboro Speedway is a historic event, the type that would typically attract a number of part-time, local entries hoping to make a name for themselves.
Indeed, there are 40 entries battling to be part of the 36-truck field. But a lot of those extra cars are coming from the same full-time organizations. Ten of the 40 trucks (25%) come from just two teams: TRICON Garage (Toyota) and Thorsport Racing (Ford). Cost concerns there have also pushed single-car, part-time efforts to the sidelines or kept newer teams from forming. Rev Racing, partnered with Kyle Busch Motorsports this season, is really the only new organization that we’ve seen emerge in 2023.
Why is all this smaller field stuff worth mentioning now? Well, for starters, Cup owners continue to go public about their dissatisfaction with negotiations about NASCAR making the charter system permanent following the 2024 season.
“We have seen the market for Charters rise since initially issued, but there is currently no real market due to the uncertainty surrounding the pending renewal process,” they wrote to NASCAR earlier this month in a letter obtained by the Associated Press. “In order to continue to invest in our Teams and the sport as a whole, we need to build long-term value in our Charter ownership that is stable, predictable, and permanent.”
Something only has value if people are willing to buy it, right? I could look at an old penny and say that it’s invaluable, one of only a handful made in the country. But if a coin collector doesn’t want to buy it, it’s only worth one cent.
See my point?
NASCAR has owners increasingly unsettled at a time the market for these full-time charters doesn’t appear to be, well, robust. A number of potential new entrants into the sport, from a German 3F team to a Stange Racing entry headlined by Tarso Marques, have never made it onto the racetrack. Others, like a Team Hezeberg that once looked poised to do a part-time schedule with former Formula 1 and Indianapolis 500 champion Jacques Villeneuve, fizzled out.
In the meantime, the teams still in existence insist expansion won’t really be on the table until a new deal is signed and complain incessantly that, even with the Next Gen rollout, running a team at the Cup level is far too expensive. And those concerns are growing louder within NASCAR Xfinity and Truck Series garages where manufacturer support is becoming more of a necessity to survive with limited sponsorship.
It should give the owners a whole lot of leverage in their talks going forward; after all, it’s hard to have a race if no one shows up. But it’s got to be at least a little unnerving that people aren’t publicly going after charters, either. Feels like Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s claim charters are currently worth $20 million might be a little overblown? Was it posturing?
Or is the price held down because prospective new owners are keeping quiet, just hoping the charter system disappears so they don’t need to spend money in order to buy a spot in the field? Feels like the NASCAR economic system is going through an important moment of transition right now. Either way, the charter system still has a long way to go in order to achieve the values ownership seeks; Earnhardt’s beloved Washington Commanders of the NFL are about to be sold for $6.05 billion.
Did You Notice? … Quick hits before taking off …
- The expectations feel sky high for the first North Wilkesboro Cup race since 1996. I’m hoping for the best but it feels like anything less than the best All-Star Race since Davey Allison’s “spin to win” in 1992 will be considered a disappointment.
- Ross Chastain, Justin Marks and Trackhouse can apologize all they want and say Chastain needs to turn over a new leaf. But it feels like the No. 1 team is now resigned to having a target on its back for the rest of the season. As I said in my CBS Sports article this week, if Rick Hendrick’s speaking out on the situation, the most politically correct owner in the garage area … the horse has already left the barn.
About the author
The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.
You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.
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