NASCAR’s Biggest Threat? NASCAR

In a season where the on track entertainment has been on unparalleled levels, off the track NASCAR has not missed an opportunity to shoot itself in the foot.

Killing the momentum of the great start to the season was NASCAR president (and public face) Brian France endorsing, with present and former NASCAR drivers, Donald Trump for President. Their personal opinions are fine to have, but you can’t do something as the president of NASCAR and not have media and fans associate NASCAR with it. The move led Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World, to publicly call France an idiot for making an uniformed decision; and that’s from a company that gives money to NASCAR as a series sponsor.

Then there was the invocation debacle at Texas where a character (Phil Robertson) on the TV show Duck Dynasty thought it was a great platform to preach about what the country needs, all while alienating half its audience. Again, fine that he has that opinion, but in that forum it is unacceptable and something NASCAR should have seen coming. While they do not run the Texas Motor Speedway (who has a history of making bad decisions on controversial issues), they could have had some say in how the invocation should be done. Mainly, don’t talk guns and having a “Jesus man” in the oval office.

Then we go to last week during the media obligation for Ryan Blaney that has again brought NASCAR into the spotlight for not a good reason. Blaney did nothing like pledge his vote for Trump or swearing loudly into the microphone, instead he said the word “velvet” over…and over…and over. Did Blaney watch Super Troops recently and think it’d be fun to do this? Of course not! NASCAR instructed Blaney to do so.

While I’ve been in on some media sessions where the conversations with drivers have gone to silly areas, they at least were not staged conversations. Had Blaney thought of this on his own, it would be one thing, but specific instructions from the sanctioning body on what to do during his session is eye-rollingly appalling to those trying to write actual stories.

Such tactics shouldn’t be so surprising. FOX has nearly daily pieces on Danica Patrick’s yoga poses, so I guess NASCAR is just pandering to its supposed audience. Oddly there are some journalists out there who are actually journalists (not that I claim to be one) and for NASCAR to try to be “catchy” or all the buzz on social media is just sad.

Once you think that three strikes would be enough for NASCAR to wake up, this week happens. The sport welcomed back three time champion and star Tony Stewart, who has recovered from a broken back, for his final season. Prior to that announcement, Stewart “told it like it is” about the sport’s lug nut policy, and after his announcement NASCAR welcomed him back: with a $35,000 fine for speaking out against the sport. Let’s look past Greg Biffle saying the same thing earlier in the week, but really? You’re going to shadow over a big story like Stewart returning with some B.S. fine because you don’t like what he had to say (when it was the truth).

To add more layers on to this delicious cake of stupidity, was NASCAR Competition VP Scott Miller announcing yesterday the sport would look into their lug nut rules. What? So what Stewart said resonated so much with the higher ups in NASCAR that they both fined him and now realize their rule needs to be changed? They need to walk a fine line on this one, as we’ve seen the NASCAR driver council speak up and defend Stewart. How many more times will it take before drivers say “enough is enough” and stage some sort of strike? (Highly unlikely, but drivers and owners seem to be growing bigger balls when it comes to telling NASCAR what they’re doing isn’t right).

The easiest thing NASCAR can do is not another snap chat or dub smash, but let the racing do the talking. If they did that, there would be nothing but great things to be said.

Pushing It To The Limit Is On Crews, Not NASCAR To Police

The sport of auto racing is built on the idea of men pushing machines to the extreme in order to achieve victory. In the world of NASCAR it is no different that teams will do everything in their power to become faster in all aspects, including pit stops by not tightening all five lug nuts on a tire.

New for 2016 was NASCAR no longer mandating that a team needs five lug nuts before a car exits the pits. The justification was with new equipment to monitor pit road, there was no need for the extra officials to be there counting lug nuts. This was also coupled with the idea that if not all were tight, the driver would either have to come back in or would crash, thus the incentive would not be there for teams to push the envelope. It would be self-policing, should you pit or crash, any gains by making the move would be wiped out and then some.

Apparently, the risk of additional pit stops or bodily harm to drivers is not enough for some teams not to try and short their pit stops. That was the focus of Tony Stewart’s complaints this past week, where he urged NASCAR to step in and go back to the old rule because “someone will get hurt or worse.”

This is a very valid point by Stewart, but the blame should not be on NASCAR failure to enforce the rule anymore, the blame should be on the crew chiefs and tire changers. Stewart’s lecture should have been saved for his crew, not for NASCAR, they are the ones making the decision during pit stops.

To me, it is baffling the idea that teams need NASCAR save them from themselves. We see rules like that all the time, minimum roll bar thickness and minimum tire pressures come to mind. If left in the hands of some crews, drivers would be strapped inside nothing more than tin cans with seat belts and engine because it would go fast.

In this instance, it should be the teams stepping up and doing the right thing. If you cheat on a tire change and it works, suddenly you’re the hero. If it bites you, then you’re the goat, but that is your choice as a tire changer or crew chief to roll the dice. This isn’t on NASCAR to be the angel on your shoulder saying “you shouldn’t do that.”

That is out of the driver’s hand during a pit stop, but they should have dialogue to be on the same page. Should a driver not feel comfortable about rolling the dice in this fashion, as Kurt Busch told media members earlier today when he suggested that media members wouldn’t like having their passenger car with only a few lug nuts on it, he should voice that and let it be known. Same for it they are willing to risk it all for some spots on pit road, they should explain that and own that they are will to do that.

I understand that someone could get hurt or worse, as Stewart suggested, but that is part of the game when it’s pushing a stock car to the limit. If all parties are alright pushing it that far in pursuit of glory, then that is on them to reap what they sow.

No, Audi Isn’t Joining NASCAR

It seems like there are a lot of things that are really predictable about NASCAR (and the NASCAR media) anymore. When the Cup Series takes to Sonoma in June or Watkins Glen in August, you prepare for the newest rehash of the same “Should the Chase have a road course?”, “Road Course Ringers Are Dead!” and the like from pretty much every news outlet that covers NASCAR.

With this week’s off week for NASCAR courtesy of the Easter holiday, we knew that some stories would come out of the woodwork as sites start getting desperate to attract readers that are looking for any NASCAR coverage this weekend. And without fail this week, we got one, but only after Brian France kind of egged things on a bit. This week’s out-of-the-woodwork story is that not only is there supposedly one new auto manufacturer that is interested in joining NASCAR, there are multiple, and one of them is Audi.

One of the media members to pick up the “Audi to NASCAR” rumor was Matt Dillner, which propelled many sites to pick up the rumor and run with it- all without any actual evidence beyond Dillner’s tweet and Brian France’s words on a SiriusXM interview.

To start, let me just say that this “Audi to NASCAR “ rumor isn’t exactly new. Audi or at least some part of the Volkswagen Group, has been linked to joining NASCAR for years- albeit without much evidence to ever support the idea. I can recall this rumor cropping up around the time that Toyota joined Cup, and that isn’t the earliest this rumor can be traced to- when Toyota was rumored to be joining the national NASCAR Series in the early 2000s, a rumor of VW joining with them was floated. It really begs the question: what’s special about having heard this rumor “for 2 years” when it dates back almost 15 years? But I digress. The “VW to NASCAR” rumor cropped up again when Dodge left NASCAR, because many people were optimistic that we would maintain the status quo of having 4 manufacturers, and none of the VW brands have joined NASCAR in the 4 years since Dodge left… or the 15 or so years that this rumor can be traced back. Now, here we are in the spring of 2016 and the rumor is back again.

What would be stopping Audi from joining NASCAR? The biggest roadblock would be the entire Volkswagen Group’s current emissions scandal, in which VW is accused of installing “defeat devices” in their diesel-powered cars to pass emissions tests while being tested, but once taken out of this test mode, they pollute many times higher than is allowed.

While this only covers around half a million passenger vehicles sold in the US, VW has admitted that the number of cars with these devices could be as high as 11 million worldwide for nitric oxide emissions and an additional 800,000 vehicles in Europe for carbon dioxide emissions. The scandal led to investigations by the German government, the European Union, China, a potential buyback of about 115,000 affected vehicles, and has set the company up for an estimated $18 billion in fines alone (though is number is outdated and could actually be much higher).

The question becomes why would VW join NASCAR with their Audi brand, when they’re facing billions of dollars in expenses relating to this scandal? It simply does not make any sense. The costs to compete in NASCAR are huge- Toyota’s entry to just the Truck Series was rumored to cost over $100 million, with their entry into Cup in 2017 possibly costing as much as an additional quarter of a billion (that’s $250 million) just to make it to Daytona in February 2017. Audi would be able to skip the Truck Series investments, but they have to either build teams up in-house or convince teams to switch from their current manufacturers, at a cost of several million dollars a year per car.

It takes years to develop the car, engine, and all of the parts and pieces needed to enter NASCAR. It took Toyota 3 years to jump from Trucks to Cup, and in 2017 it was a disaster for the manufacturer. Even if things were announced tomorrow for Audi to join NASCAR, they wouldn’t field a Cup team until probably 2019 or 2020 at the earliest. By then, the company will likely either be in the final stages of settling any lawsuits relating to this emissions scandal, or will have reached their settlements and begun paying any fines that come with their settlements. The only good news is that the 2019-2020 time frame is around when NASCAR is expected to have their next generation racecar developed, so it would be a good time to join since all of the manufacturers would likely have a new car design to deal with.

The big question still remains: Why would Audi even want to join NASCAR? The entire VW group is enjoying their success in the World Endurance Championship, IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, and other series with their Audi, Porsche, and multitude of other brands. The investment costs to go run NASCAR don’t jive with what they would get in return. Audi would have to avoid taking the route Toyota did in joining Cup, and would have to attract a championship-caliber team from the start to avoid the disastrous results that Toyota had their first season. Although you can’t ever predict some of these wild manufacturer switches (did anyone see Stewart-Haas Racing switching to Ford coming?), who would Audi target? Hendrick is ingrained with Chevy. JGR is ingrained with Toyota. Ford has the new Penske/Stewart-Haas/Roush 3 team partnership. Penske would be the only championship-caliber team that could probably be convinced to switch, but they’re happy at Ford and will probably be in the middle of a new long-term deal with the manufacturer around the time this rumor would play out.

Bottom line, while NASCAR might be able to use a fourth manufacturer in Cup to make things a bit more competitive top-to-bottom, don’t expect it to come from the Volkswagen Auto Group, especially in light of all of the problems that the entire company faces, and don’t expect it to happen any time soon.

5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Be Excited About the 2016 NASCAR Season

We’re just a few days away from the return of NASCAR racing for another season. There’s a lot to be excited about, and with good reason. There’s finally a rookie class that looks like it’ll produce a race-winning rookie driver for the first time since 2009. Picking an organization as the “best” team going into the season is problematic- while the usual suspects are almost all good choices for a preseason pick to be the Champion, picking one team that as a whole is the top dog right now is simply not easy.

While all of that is true, and on the one hand you can be excited for the 2016 NASCAR season, here are several reasons why you probably need to scale back that excitement.

Remember the new aero package to reduce downforce, the digital dashboard, and all those other improvements to the cars?

Yeah, probably not. And it’s forgivable if you’ve forgotten all of those changes to the cars, as they haven’t exactly been the talking point of the offseason (hi there, charter franchise system). But, the aero package being run in most races in 2016 was hyped up following Kentucky last year, and will hopefully bring about better racing in 2016.

However, we’ve heard that story before, and it’s rarely ever panned out. The issue isn’t that the setup isn’t conducive to better racing: it’s that the engineers employed by the teams are finding more and more ways to counter any changes that NASCAR makes in order to find that extra millisecond of speed in the cars. While there certainly is a chance that the racing will be better in 2016 (no more 10+ second leads on the intermediate tracks), if a team hits their setup and has an advantage, they’re still going to pull away from the pack.

The 2016 Olympics Impact the TV Schedule

Okay, so this probably should not be a concern, except it is. NASCAR fans have a habit of not being able to find the channel that the race is on, despite the entire schedule being posted on hundreds of websites. After so many complained about not being able to find a race on FOX, FS1, NBC, or NBCSN, with NBC covering the 2016 Olympics over the summer, the Watkins Glen Cup race as well as the Xfinity Series races at Mid-Ohio and Bristol will be moved to the USA Network, while the Xfinity Series race at Watkins Glen will air on CNBC.

While USA is available in more households than NBCSN as of November 2015, no one thinks of the channel as being where NASCAR will be found. Add in that these races were some of the lowest-viewed races in 2015, it’s safe to say right now that the ratings will be absolutely dreadful in 2016.

Bottom line, prepare for NASCAR fans to be complaining incessantly during those race weekends when suddenly NBCSN isn’t showing those races and they can’t find the channel that they’re on. The Olympics are a huge event, and I completely understand the move of NASCAR events to a channel that won’t be showing something related to the Olympics. That won’t stop NASCAR fans from being outraged. Plus, having to remember a different channel for one race is just annoying.

The TV Coverage Is Still Lacking… And Probably Won’t Be Getting (Much) Better in 2016

Warning: This is the long entry in the list.

This is one of those points that you will either agree wholeheartedly with or believe that I am absolutely wrong about. However, the TV coverage last year was absolutely awful, both on Fox and NBC. Fox’s strategy of having The Three Stooges in the commentary booth for their Cup events continued in 2015, as Darrell Waltrip, Larry MacReynolds, and Mike Joy polluted the airwaves through Fox’s 16 Cup races. On the bright side, Jeff Gordon is joining the booth for 2016 as Larry MacReynolds’ replacement, which should hopefully improve the commentary from the booth. The big concern though is that instead of improving the quality of the product being produced by Fox, Gordon will act just like Mike Joy and Darrell Waltrip.

Their Xfinity Series coverage was made slightly more tolerable than Cup in 2015 by bringing in current Cup Series drivers to provide guest commentary. Having the insight of Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Brad Keselowski added at least a new dimension to the broadcasts, though admittedly of the special guest commentators, Danica Patrick was certainly the weakest of the group. Seeing this continue in 2016 is one of the few good things about Fox’s television coverage.

Truck Series coverage is still a disaster in waiting. With a booth of Vince Welch, Phil Parsons, and Michael Waltrip, it’s almost as if Fox Sports has decided to punish NASCAR fans that tune in to the Truck races. The coverage was already bad in 2015, but this trio has absolutely no redeeming qualities.

While I clearly give Fox some flak for their coverage, NBC isn’t innocent. The booth for NBC’s Cup events isn’t nearly as good as it was hyped up to be. It wasn’t necessarily bad. It was just… mediocre. Hopefully year two of NBC’s Cup coverage means that the trio has more time to mesh together and for each member to find their role.

For Xfinity, NBC’s coverage is… dismal. The rotating cast of characters often led to disappointment. Ralph Sheheen, Dale Jarrett, Leigh Diffey, Frank Stoddard, and Ray Evernham rotating in for the Cup commentators simply made things feel disjointed more often than not. Whenever NBC’s “B” team (or “C” team, as it sometimes felt) was calling a standalone Xfinity race, there just wasn’t any excitement; instead of engaging the viewer I sometimes felt like NBC was actively working to drive away viewers. In 2016, I expect this cast to rotate just as much, if not more, for the standalone races.

I’m not even going to really get into the whole “let’s move stuff to FS2 or CNBC or whatnot”. Neither network is innocent at this, and the trend of moving things off a main channel will continue as TV ratings continue their freefall. Get used to either finding these more obscure networks or simply doing without the coverage if you don’t get the channel.

NASCAR Has Now Locked Most Tracks Into 5-Year Agreements

Yep, if you’re one of those people that want to see new tracks added to the Cup schedule… good luck. All of the Cup tracks are now locked into sanctioning agreements with NASCAR through the 2020 season. So no, Iowa isn’t getting a Cup date any time soon, nor is NASCAR going to add more road courses to the Cup schedule (and I’m *definitely* looking forward to that debate cropping up during the Sonoma and Watkins Glen weekends like it always does).

Not that ISC or SMI were ever in much danger of losing a race date, but now it’s basically guaranteed until 2020 unless a track goes bankrupt that no one is losing a date. Get used to the Cup schedule you saw in 2015 because, aside from minor changes due to events like Easter, that schedule is here to stay through 2020. That means two Cup races at Pocono, two races at Texas, two races at New Hampshire, two races at Kansas, zero races at Iowa, pretty much the same Chase schedule, and Homestead holding the season finale for the next five seasons.

So even if these tracks put on absolute snorefests of races this season, they’re even less likely to get booted off the schedule than before

There Are Still Rules That NASCAR Has Not Yet Figured Out

Daytona 500 qualifying is on Sunday. NASCAR is expected to announce their qualifying format for the four “open” spots in Cup for the teams that do not have a charter on Thursday. There’s still no decision on how NASCAR will alter the green-white-checkered finish rule for plate races, how the Can-Am Duel 150 races will determine the 4 “open” spots in the 40 car field, how the four spots will be field if qualifying is canceled, whether there will be a Champion’s Provisional (the belief is that no, there won’t be), and a plethora of other rules. Heck, with the drop to 40 cars in the field now for a Cup race, there’s the expectation that NASCAR will adjust the current point system. Yep, we’re under two weeks to the season’s first race and we have no idea how the points are going to work this year.

And the best part? NASCAR’s probably going to change some stuff around just because they can in the middle of the season. There’s a reason that the joke of NASCAR’s rulebook being written in pencil is a real joke: sometimes, it feels like that is actually true.

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Charter, Charter, Charter

It was indeed a historic day for NASCAR on Tuesday, we know that because the press release starts with that line. Beyond being told, it was historic in NASCAR finally worked a franchising/Charter system with the teams that run in its series. In announcing it, I couldn’t help but think that it’s exactly like every major NASCAR decision that’s been made under Brian France; good idea with poor execution.

The Good

A major problem for middle to lower tiered teams was they could never really plan out beyond a year or two. All sponsorship agreements and driver signings were with the short term in mind, now with the agreement they will be in the Charter for nine years. On top of that, they will be guaranteed to make every race. This way teams can build for the future without worry about struggling to make each race.

For the teams in the Charter, they will also benefit from new revenue streams ranging from the guaranteed purse to new online ventures. Aligning the online experience for fans will aid teams in marketing strategies and allow them more time to come up with new ideas. This sort of tactic is seen in other sports such as the NFL and the NHL.

The added bonus was cutting the field down from 43 cars each week to 40. This was a long overdue move since there hasn’t been 43 competitive teams in a very long time.

The Bad

While the announcement was made today, like most, there’s still some details that have yet to be released. Mainly in this case is how the Duels will be done for Daytona. The whole idea is for drivers to race their way in, well now there will be 36 guaranteed spots for Charter members, so what is the point of the race?

There is a performance based clause in the Charter, but it will be reviewed on a yearly basis. During the year NASCAR will nag a team into performing better. The tough part is to police this and it is doubtful NASCAR would ever really strip a team’s Charter.

Outrage was seen on Twitter regarding Wood Brothers Racing, who did not get a Charter. They have not run full-time since 2008, thus ineligible to receive membership as they needed to run full-time since 2013. While other teams like Joe Gibbs Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing need an additional Charter, they will be buying theirs, leaving the Woods out. If one of the main points of the announcement wasn’t about the history of the sport, maybe there would be less anger since the Woods have been involved since the beginning of NASCAR.

The Ugly

Speaking of selling Charters, this is where it gets ugly. While Rob Kauffman was a great choice from a business perspective to head up the Charter creation, there was a giant conflict of interest. Not so much that Kaufman is a team owner, as it the point of this system to sync up NASCAR and owners better, but the idea he has two Charters to sell now.

Kaufman won’t get back what he put into Michael Waltrip Racing by selling his two Charters, but he will get something from them. Something he quoted to be in the range of 4-8 million dollars. The issue at hand is at first the Charters would command lower amounts, but pitting teams against each other has driven the price and with Daytona just this week, teams are panicking. Premium Motorsports was awarded one Charter, but will be leasing that out to HScott Motorsports for around $1.5 million this year. What’s to stop them from leasing it every year to the highest bidder?

Looking at the Wood Brothers team again, they have struggled to get the funds to run full-time. This year they will be, but are out of the Charter (as seen above). With NASCAR being lucky to draw more than 40 cars each week, qualifying won’t be an issue, losing out on prize money is the issue. Charter teams are guaranteed more money each week than non-Charter teams. Where’s the incentive for them to run the full-year then?

Who Will NOT Be Filling In For Tony Stewart

News came out earlier this week Tony Stewart was involved in a “non-racing” accident (because that makes it better for us to take? Weird emphasis on “non-racing” on nearly every press release) and will miss significant time after sustaining a burst fracture of his L1 vertebra. This will take a substantial amount of time to heal, thus opening the door for a replacement driver in the #14 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR).

And with any opening in NASCAR, fans go crazy with off the wall suggestions for who should take over. With those in mind, here is a list of drivers who will NOT be driving for Tony Stewart in 2016.

Jeff Gordon: Recently retired and signed up to call races on FOX, Gordon WILL NOT drive for Stewart. Not it’s not really the FOX deal, as they would love for someone to call a race in a race, it’s the fact Gordon owns half of the #48 and part of the #24 cars for Hendrick Motorsports. NASCAR rules prohibit someone from owning part of a team that has four cars to then drive for another organization, never mind the Hendrick to Stewart-Haas connection. This is the same reason why JR Motorsports will never go to Cup nor Kyle Busch Motorsports. That is unless Dale Earnhardt Jr or Kyle Busch drive for their own teams. That aside, there is no way Gordon is selling his stake in Hendrick Motorsports to drive half a year or even just the Daytona 500.

Mark Martin: Martin already has filled in for Stewart before, but he WILL NOT drive for Stewart in 2016. He has retired and has no desire to drive anymore, saying as much on Twitter earlier this week. Poor Martin, he has bombarded with so many fan inquiries I would blame him from never logging on Twitter ever again.

Jeff Burton: Burton, like Martin has filled in for Stewart before. And like Gordon, has a TV deal that he’s currently working on. Like Martin again, he took to Twitter to tell fans he WILL NOT drive for Stewart.

John Hunter Nemechek: Not sure where this originated from, but John Hunter Nemechek WILL NOT drive for Stewart. Nemechek just turned 18 last season, which means he can finally run on large tracks, and I’m pretty sure there’s a large one to start the season. I can’t imagine SHR would want to rotate through a handful of drivers while Stewart recovers. And given Nemechek’s lack of experience, even in the Truck Series, and that is not a winning recipe.

Jeremy Mayfield: Even weirder than the Nemechek push has been the one for Jeremy Mayfield. Sorry folks, but Mayfield WILL NOT drive for Stewart. The driver who is better known for meth and burglary has been a heartwarming story of redemption trying to fight his way back into racing. That said, never mind “meth” and “burglary” being synonymous with his name (right or wrong), he hasn’t driven in the Cup Series since they had the Car of Tomorrow. Too much of a learning curve for him to try and make up for, plus that and still being suspended by NASCAR will hold him back.

Brian Vickers: Vickers is an interesting case because he when given good equipment, he can excel. That being said, Vickers WILL NOT drive for Stewart. One year removed having to stop racing while on blood thinners, not much has been heard from Vickers outside some studio time at NBC. Given his name came up exactly zero times this offseason as a driver who could go into an empty ride, I believe his racing career has come and gone. Add to that the unknown of if he has to step away again due to the blood clots and we’re back to SHR not wanting to flip-flop drivers every week.

Alex Bowman: Alex Bowman finds himself in an odd place in NASCAR, Cup Series owner Tommy Baldwin showed now faith in him and dumped him a week ago for Regan Smith. On the other side, Dale Earnhardt Jr sees potential with Bowman and inked him to five Xfinity Series races this upcoming season. One could argue that Stewart could see something in Bowman that Junior sees, but reality says Bowman WILL NOT drive for Stewart.

Clint Bowyer: While Bowyer will drive for Stewart, as his successor, in 2017, this year he WILL NOT drive for Stewart. Too much was done to get him over to HScott Motorsports for one year to then nix that deal to run him half of this year. If they knew Stewart was out for the full year, maybe, but with sponsors involved this one is a no go.

David Ragan: Ragan WILL NOT drive for Stewart. This isn’t so much because Ragan signed with BK Racing, it’s more because no one seems to want Ragan. He was spurned by Team Penske, Richard Petty Motorsports (twice!), Front Row Motorsports didn’t want him back after he left last year, and no other team had a fleeting interest in Ragan. That said, he does have one big fan who assumes every open seat is Ragan’s…good thing this guy isn’t in the media.

Parker Kligerman: Kligerman WILL NOT drive for Stewart. No talk of him doing it, just trying to justify using his image for the article. While he did work as a backup plan if Kurt Busch was late coming back to the Daytona 500, Kligerman has hitched his wagon on the NBC train while dabbling in the Truck Series. With no Cup experience, he would be very far down the list. He ran for Swan Racing, which everyone has since forgot about.

Ryan Ellis: Bwahahahaha.

Ty Dillon: Dillon’s name has gotten a lot of steam as a replacement, but he WILL NOT drive for Stewart…in the Daytona 500. He already has a deal with Leavine Circle Family Sport Racing (whoops, Leavine Family Circle Sport Racing…or is it Circle Sport Leavine Family Racing?) to run the 500 with Cheerios as a sponsor. You could argue they could move primary driver Michael McDowell to that ride and let Dillon go, but I don’t see that happening. After Daytona, however, I could see him being a good substitute for Stewart. And it’ll be fun to see him paired with Kevin Harvick as a teammate.

The New World Charter

Talk of a charter system taking over the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series ownership model has heated up as we get closer to the start of the 2016 season. With no firm deal yet, it is hard to speculate on what kind of impact this will have, but we are starting to see movement by teams in preparation of what will come.

The first such move was the dissolving of the Hillman Racing team (#40) and the merger of Cirlce Sport Racing and Leavine Family Racing (LFR). In essence, Circle Sport took its cars and points from their #33 car and has allowed the LFR team to now go for a full season for the first time in their history. While it is always sad to see teams go away because of the impact on the team workers, in this case it was a welcome move.

Circle Sport Racing only seemed to perform when it had direct help from Richard Childress Racing, not only behind the scenes, but with either Ty Dillon or Brian Scott driving. When it wasn’t either one of those drivers, it was a random mix of drivers ranging from Alex Kennedy to Ryan Ellis to even B.J. McLeod. Each one getting the ride because they had some sponsor to bring with them.

In an interview with Popular Speed, Ellis said the days of a driver buying a ride for the weekend could be over. This is the same driver who took to fans to raise money needed for driving. How is this a bad thing? While less teams inherently mean less opportunity, just because a driver has sponsorship does not mean they are worthy of an opportunity.

Furthermore, what is better for NASCAR racing, having more cars that are less competitive or less cars that are more competitive? I would say I’d rather see 35-40 cars out there if they will all compete, versus getting to that magic 43 number that was picked for some reason during the 1998 season.

That point plays into what transpired during the day on Thursday, which was the moves by Tommy Baldwin Racing (TBR). About a month after announcing a sponsor and getting their pictures taken with driver Alex Bowman, TBR released Bowman from his duties.

The cited reason by team owner Tommy Baldwin was “as NASCAR transitions to different business and competition models, teams have to make decisions accordingly.” In plainer terms, TBR needs to be running closer to the front and it might be because the charter might be based upon points positioning from this year.

Baldwin has chosen veteran Regan Smith, who is an upgrade over Bowman, but it is not clear what kind of miracles he can work with the TBR team. They are optimistic in their hire, as we should be optimistic that this charter system can lead to stronger teams going forward knowing they are locked into the field each week.