Will drivers earn extra from the new NASCAR Charter System?

Danica Patrick: "I hope it’s not just a big argue-fest because I’ve experienced in IndyCar"
Danica Patrick: "I hope it’s not just a big argue-fest because I’ve experienced in IndyCar"

NASCAR and team owners redrew the business model of their relationship. Now drivers are in the process of adjusting theirs.

As part of a so-called charter system in which 36 teams that met and can maintain participation requirements were granted access to each Sprint Cup race of a season, purse distribution was basically eliminated in favor of a weighted system and new money streams. Drivers, independent contractors whose deals contain incentives based on earnings which technically no longer exist, now must renegotiate the way they are compensated with their teams.

NASCAR told the driver council that the teams have all the financial information so they can ask questions and go over financials now.

"Every driver has a concern if you’re paid based on the purse, because that’s how most contracts are structured. That structuring changed," said Jamie McMurray, a former driver council member who has a guaranteed spot in every points race as part of Chip Ganassi Racing. "It’s all for the better, but everyone’s contracts had to be re-looked at and reworked. From what I know, talking to other drivers, and our team, I think it’s really fair. It just takes a different contract."

Drivers on Tuesday at Daytona 500 media day projected similar hope that existing relationships with owners would resolve their situations amicably. But most are entering the season without these new deals.

"We haven’t done anything about it yet," said Casey Mears of Germain Racing, a team which received a charter. "I may actually go into the Daytona 500 not knowing what I’m earning. I think the relationship I have with my team is good. All the conversations we’ve had have been about ‘How can we get you back to what we negotiated?’ There’s definitely a lot of internal conversations going on."

Danica Patrick, who signed a multi-year contract extension with Stewart-Haas Racinglast summer, said she hopes owners share their gains — including tangible value for their charter — with the drivers.

"If they’re guaranteed certain things and have a certain comfort level and resale value then you just hope on some level it will trickle down to the drivers somewhat, in some way," Patrick told USA TODAY Sports. "I don’t know if it’s more in salaries and guarantees, just because there’s more comfort. I don’t know. But you’d like to think that if things got better for the owners, then it would get to the drivers. I’d like to think that.

"I think that’s probably the most simple, straightforward way it would come down to us. We’d get paid more. You gotta ask for sure. Hell yeah, you gotta ask."

Hendrick Motorsports’ Kasey Kahne said he expected to have his contract completed by the end of the week, and anticipates a raise.

"I would say looking at mine, kind of going off of averages, a lot of owner money, the whole charter system, all of it, the purse money," he said, "a lot of that stuff is set up off of averages over the years to make the most sense for all the teams and if I run similar to how I ran probably over the last 10 years I would say I would end up making a little bit more money."

Kahne had a career-high six wins in 2006 and has 10 since, with a best points finish of fourth in 2012.
2012 series champion Brad Keselowski called the situation "not ideal" but said all he could do was trust team owner Roger Penske.

"I think anyone would like to know before the terms of their employment changes but that is not the situation," Keselowski said. "I am aware of the fact that I am a race car driver and no matter what happens I am still going to be okay and I am not looking for anyone to feel bad for me. On the other side it is not ideal."

Patrick said her Daytona 500 qualifying scare from last season reinforced how important the charter system is for full-time teams. After starting her qualifier in a backup car at the rear of the field, needing to race her way into the biggest event of the NASCAR season, Patrick relied on drafting assistance from Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kurt Busch during a green/white/checker finish to place 10th and secure her position.

"I mean, thank goodness," she said. "I almost didn’t qualify for the Daytona 500 last year. If Kurt hadn’t have pushed me around, I wouldn’t have made it. And that’s just stupid. And going back to Talladega the year before when (boyfriend and Roush Fenway Racing driver) Ricky (Stenhouse Jr.) didn’t make it because he didn’t cross the line in time (during group qualifying). That’s stupid. There’s no reason why a fully sponsored car that has a sponsor showing that weekend and funding, there’s no reason they should miss the race. Those are the cars that need to be promised their seats and their rides."

Still, Patrick worries how the balance of power in the series could be affected by a new Team Owner Council. By advancing through open wheel’s developmental system, she witnessed the aftermath and lingering acrimony of the open-wheel split, which was in part spurred by growing owner control of the Champ Car series. Tony George founded a rival series based around the Indianapolis 500 beginning in 1996. Open wheel racing — albeit, impacted by other complicating factors — still struggles to recover prestige and national interest subsequently ceded to NASCAR even after Champ Car went bankrupt and was absorbed by the IndyCar series.

"I hope it’s not just a big argue-fest because I’ve experienced IndyCar and the days it split off, CART and IndyCar," she said. "All the owners had a say-so and it just didn’t go good. There’s a certain caution I have in my mind to everybody having a say so." USA Today

Leave a Reply