Tuesday, February 04, 2020

COMMENTARY: NASCAR Charter and Owner Points Manipulation Begins Anew

Here we go again. 

Just days before the official start of the 2020 NASCAR campaign, the annual outbreak of bamboozlement and chicanery surrounding NASCAR’s Cup Series Charter system and Xfinity Series owner points has once again reared its ugly head.

Originally designed to reward teams who loyally support NASCAR’s Cup, Xfinity and Gander RV and Outdoors Truck Series, the charter and owner points systems have sadly become manipulated to do something they were never intended to do.

In the headline Cup Series, 36 charter-holding teams are guaranteed to start in every point-counting race, from Daytona in February to the season-finale in Phoenix. That’s a nice little insurance policy to have, and teams have traditionally gone to great lengths to procure a charter and guarantee their participation in all 36 races.

In the Xfinity and Truck ranks, owner points are used to fill four spots near the back of the weekly field, after time-trials set the bulk of the starting grid. In the opening events of the season, owner points from the previous season are used to fill-out the field. As in the Cup garage, Truck and Xfinity Series teams have become extremely creative over the years, in an attempt to acquire the Owner Points necessary to guarantee participation in the opening events of the season.

When the system was first instituted in 2016, Cup Series Charters were awarded to teams that “showed a long-term commitment to the sport by attempting to qualify every week for the past three years.” As part of the system, team owners are allowed to transfer Charters to other organizations for a season, once every five years. There have also been instances of “selling” a Charter to a cooperative fellow owner, with the understanding that it will be sold back the following year.

And there, my friends, is the rub.

While well-intentioned, the sanctioning body’s Charter and Owner Points systems have slowly been manipulated to the point where instead of rewarding teams for long-term loyalty, they sometimes benefit
teams that have never turned a lap in NASCAR National Series competition.

That will once again be the case in 2020.

Ragan has a Daytona insurance policy.
In the Cup Series, three charters appear to be on the move this season. After downsizing from four cars to three during the offseason, Front Row Motorsports will transfer a charter from its now-inactive No. 36 Ford to its No. 38 Mustang driven by Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate John Hunter Nemechek. That move is clearly within both the letter and the spirit of the law, since both the No. 36 and 38 cars attempted every race last season.

Front Row’s No. 38 charter will transfer to Rick Ware Racing this season; after either a direct sale, a one-year lease, or a paperwork shuffle to enter the car as a defacto FRM Ford at Daytona. Ware will have at least three (and likely four) Cup entries on track at The World Center of Racing next week, with David Ragan driving the organization’s No. 53 car (conveniently re-numbered 36) in a one-off effort, Joey Gase wheeling the No. 51 car, JJ Yeley in the No. 54 and a No. 52 entry with driver still TBA.

Ragan reaps the benefits of that Charter shuffle, coming to Daytona as a guaranteed starter, even though the team for which he will drive finished 39th in 2019 Owner Points.

That’s not what NASCAR had in mind.

There is also some maneuvering going on in the Xfinity garage.

Hattori Racing has NXS Owner Points
GMS Racing will not compete in the Xfinity Series this season, with its Owner Points transferring to the new No. 02 Our Motorsports team, which will field a full-time entry for Andy Seuss, Brett Moffitt and others this season. That acquisition virtually ensures that Our Motorsports will race in next weekend’s season-opening NASCAR Racing Experience 300 at Daytona, despite never taking the green flag in a NASCAR National Series event, ever before.

Hattori Racing will also compete in next Saturday’s race, using 2019 Owner Points from Motorsports Business Management (MBM). The two teams worked together to field NXS entries under the Hattori banner in only three events last season; Daytona in July, Bristol and Indianapolis.

Confused? Just wait. It gets much worse.

The Jimmy Means Racing NXS team has peddled its 2019 Owner Points to Mike Harmon Racing, improving Harmon’s chances of making the first few races of the season. Means then acquired Owner Points from Stewart-Haas Racing with Biagi-DenBeste, which will not field its traditional No. 98 Ford this season.

Means: Maximizing his chances
Nonsensical as it appears on the surface, the Means-Harmon-SHR shuffle actually makes competitive sense. Both Means and Harmon dramatically improve their standing in the event of an early-season qualifying rain out, virtually ensuring that they will begin the 2020 campaign without a costly DNQ.

And finally, consider the curious case of JD Motorsports.

Veteran team owner Johnny Davis played the Owner Points system like Liberace played the piano this offseason, executing an in-house points shuffle among all four of his Xfinity Series teams.

Owner Points from JDM’s No. 01 car will move to the team’s No. 6 this season, with points from the No. 0 transferring to the No. 4 car. Owner points from Davis’ No. 15 jump to the No. 0, with points from the No. 4 car now residing with the No. 15.

Why, you ask?

Simply to put the maximum amount of Owner Points – and their accompanying security on qualifying day – behind his youngest, least experienced drivers, maximizing JDM’s chances of getting all four cars into the starting field.

The owners are not to blame here. They are simply exploiting loopholes in the Charter and Owner Points systems to their full advantage.

That’s what racers do, they exploit legal loopholes to find an advantage.

NASCAR is also well-intentioned in its effort to reward teams for making the maximum effort in previous seasons. But the current system continues to have some serious – and readily apparent – flaws that require attention.

A significant number of this year’s Charter transfers are nothing more than transparent paper shuffles designed to prevent organizations from failing to qualify, due to underperformance.

NASCAR’s current Charter agreement expires at the end of the 2024 season. Hopefully, the sanctioning body will see its way clear to close the loopholes before then.