Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice?: The Death Of NASCAR’s Single-Car Team?

Did You Notice? … Rumors broke through Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern this week that an ownership shakeup could occur at JTG Daugherty Racing next season.

The NASCAR Cup Series operation has been owned by Tad and Jodi Geschickter and NBA legend Brad Daugherty since 2009; primary sponsor Kroger has been with them nearly the entire time.

Who knows what will happen with the No. 47 Chevrolet, last year’s Daytona 500 winner, as NASCAR Silly Season ramps up this summer. Here’s what we do know: the car driven by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was the only single-car operation to make the playoffs last season. Stenhouse entered the Round of 16 the biggest underdog of all drivers battling for the championship and failed to make it past the first round, finishing dead last (16th) in the final standings.

JTG’s postseason bid was the first for a single-car outfit since Matt DiBenedetto and Wood Brothers Racing in 2020. Could it also turn out to be the last?

NASCAR has suffered a long, slow decline in single-car teams since Jeff Gordon broke through and won the championship for Hendrick Motorsports’ multi-car operation in 1995. That started a race for others to copy its successful “bigger is better, teamwork” format, from the old Robert Yates Racing operation learning information sharing to the Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske powerhouses we see today.

The result has been a tectonic shift in power within NASCAR. No single-car operation has won the title since Dale Earnhardt in 1994; the only “independent” type team that’s broken through is Furniture Row Racing in 2017 with Martin Truex, Jr. For most of its existence, FRR was a single-car operation based out in Colorado, although it won the title during the lone year it housed a second, full-time car driven by Erik Jones.

See also
Corey Heim Replacing Injured Erik Jones at Dover

But it only took a year after that title bid for the whole FRR operation to shut down due to a lack of corporate sponsorship. Today, there’s just a handful of single-car teams remaining on the NASCAR circuit within the 36 chartered programs.

2024 NASCAR Cup Series OrganizationNumber of Chartered Cars
Hendrick Motorsports4
Joe Gibbs Racing4
Stewart-Haas Racing4
Spire Motorsports3
Team Penske3
Front Row Motorsports2
Kaulig Racing2
Legacy Motor Club2
RFK Racing2
Richard Childress Racing2
Rick Ware Racing2
Trackhouse Racing2
23XI Racing2
JTG Daugherty Racing1
Wood Brothers1

The only other single-car program, the Wood Brothers, has struggled throughout the course of 2024, sitting 32nd in points with Harrison Burton. Burton and Stenhouse have combined for just three top-10 finishes and are both unlikely to qualify for the postseason without a win.

Two is the smallest number of single-car teams we’ve had since charters were introduced prior to the 2016 season. After a brief rise in new ownership, with Trackhouse Racing, Kaulig Racing and 23XI Racing entering as one-car operations, it’s realistic to think the single-car team could disappear altogether as soon as next season.

It doesn’t take much to make the leap. All it would take is JTG Daugherty to, say, become the third charter 23XI Racing may be looking for, while the Wood Brothers get fully absorbed as the fourth Team Penske car. Penske is already heavily involved in the operation, sharing information, chassis and crew support for Burton’s No. 21. The No. 21 car is prepared in the Penske shop.

Who would replace them? After all, there’s an argument to be made NASCAR leaves four spots open on the grid for non-chartered teams every weekend. But it’s not like when FRR started out doing a handful of races in 2005 to build their portfolio. The cost of doing business is so expensive, and the purse money reduced so dramatically for “open” teams, part-timers can no longer build a foundation.

The charter system is set up so they go broke. That keeps the power invested in the owners who have “bought in” for a full season and conceivably raises their value.

OK, so maybe new teams can start a little further down the ladder? Well, it’s not just the Cup Series where single-car teams are on life support. Take a look at this weekend’s NASCAR Xfinity Series entry list for Dover Motor Speedway. Of the 39 cars, only eight are single-car entries. Here’s the breakdown below.

2024 NASCAR Xfinity Series Entry List (Owners)Cars Entered
JR Motorsports5
Joe Gibbs Racing4
Kaulig Racing4
RSS Racing4
Alpha Prime Racing2
DGM Racing2
JD Motorsports2
Jordan Anderson Racing2
Richard Childress Racing2
SS-Green Light Racing2
Stewart-Haas Racing2
AM Racing1
Big Machine Racing1
Jeremy Clements Racing1
Joey Gase Motorsports1
MBM Motorsports1
Our Motorsports1
Sam Hunt Racing1
Young’s Motorsports1

Of those single-car entries, only Big Machine Racing (Parker Kligerman) is in playoff position if the season ended today. One of the eight entries, MBM, has been part time this season, struggling for sponsorship, while Young’s has a multi-car Craftsman Truck Series operation to fall back on.

In some ways, this growth out of single-car operations was inevitable with the charter system. To make those charters “worth” something, you have to raise the cost of entry, right? Well, it’s a heck of a lot harder to break through when you need to find the startup money for two teams, not one. Add in the limited purse money for NASCAR’s Xfinity and Truck series, plus the reduced money for unchartered teams in Cup, and the path to profitability becomes near impossible.

Unless, of course, you want to buy into one of the teams already established. But how many opportunities are out there for that, really? It’s not like Hendrick, Gibbs or Penske are looking to sell their piece of the pie anytime soon. And after an influx of fresh blood in 2021, teams like Trackhouse, 23XI and Brad Keselowski-infused RFK Racing aren’t planning on going anywhere either.

The moves add greater complexity into a charter deal that’s already seen its share of standoffs. Does NASCAR want to head the route of Formula 1 where two-car teams are the minimum standard? Where the cost of entry means new owners will change over the course of decades, not yearly?

I would argue the success of the little guy is part of the allure within NASCAR. There’s something human to fans feeling like someone with a ragtag bunch of crew members just came off the street and contended for a top-10 finish at Daytona International Speedway. There’s something appealing to fresh faces being able to build from the ground up and learn how to contend against larger, well-funded operations.

Owners want a franchise model to produce stability within the sport. That can come at a cost of innovation and parity, both crucial to the success of long-term auto racing. F1 has gotten around it, with fans interested in the technology, pizzazz and testing that gets everyone to the grid. That makes an inability to pass during the race something they can swallow.

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Inside IndyCar: To Cap or Not to Cap?

But NASCAR? They don’t have that innovation right now. The Next Gen chassis designed to produce the parity is slipping away as top-tier team owners start running away from the competition. Those same owners have additional control through partnerships with the middle-tier programs in order for them to stay more competitive through information-sharing and mechanical support. And now … those same owners are looking to further consolidate their power through long-term charter agreements.

It’s very possible a new manufacturer could help lead to an additional shakeup in charters: expanding the total number of them, adding an influx of cash and providing a shift in power structure. The problem is there’s no clear start date, if ever, on when rumored dalliances with Honda, Dodge or anyone else will come to fruition.

So if the owners re-up under the current charter system, and there’s no new manufacturer, how are tweets like this one going to make any difference for potential new power brokers in the sport?

Magic Johnson was congratulating his friend Michael Jordan on that Talladega Superspeedway win, and mililons of people who knew little to nothing about NASCAR got clued in. It’s an opportunity for new people to get hooked on stock car racing, from fans in the stands to people with the money and clout to invest in a program.

That’s where a potential sale of JTG, if it does come to fruition, could be so popular, along with a potential charter reduction at Stewart-Haas Racing. If NASCAR continues down its current path, those may be the last ownership changes we see in the sport for years to come.

Did You Notice? … Quick hits before taking off …

  • That’s two weeks in a row Michael McDowell has crashed with race-winning speed. Now 26th in points, the pressure is starting to mount for him at Front Row Motorsports. The equipment has improved to a point where McDowell needs to cash in on those opportunities.
  • Corey Heim has an important Cup debut with Legacy Motor Club this weekend after Erik Jones hurt his back at Talladega. Remember last year when Carson Hocevar popped into Spire Motorsports’ No. 7 in a one-race deal and took that car right into the top 15? He was all but assured a Cup ride by the end of the summer. Eyes are on Heim in a No. 43 car that should be strong at Dover; Jones ran 16th there last year.

Follow @NASCARBowles

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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janice

well every team with be a prime team and then auxiliary team of the prime.

really with the car they run now, the physical difference between manufacturers is the nose and stickers that they put in the car.

i remember always rooting for the underdog, the little guy, especially at daytona because at that track anything was possible.

seems we’re just going to have mega teams.

Steve

Interesting article, especially after Steve Waid’s story yesterday on James Hylton and independent teams back in the day.

I’ve pulled for the Woods Brothers forever but realized long ago they were extremely lucky to have the Ford family as close friends or otherwise I don’t think they’d still be around. Everything but what’s on the paperwork says they’ve been a fourth Penske team for quite some time now.

Charters are like a small Fort Knox, big money will be bought out by bigger money.

John

Good article, Tom. It takes way more engineering expertise to hunt and gather a bunch of little improvements than it does to find a new set up. This car is too restrictive on changes allowed on race weekend. He who has the best simulator will now be the one who triumphs in the end. Since all teams get the same parts kit with fewer gray areas to experiment in. Those who understand tire models and shocks analytically will be, and are now becoming, the winners. The discussion on charter ownership will determine the interest of any new money coming into the sport. The concerns of owners over the balance sheet and that is resolved will be all you write about by the time week 26 hits unless the owners can build a business case for remaining in Nascar.

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