Will NASCAR Have Full Fields in 2017?
The NASCAR charter system was supposed to help struggling teams and guarantee strong fields at races? But will we see half-filled fields in the 2017 season?
As 2017 approaches, NASCAR’s future looks bright on the surface. The sport just underwent a rebrand, and will enter the season with new title sponsor Monster Energy. NASCAR’s new ownership structures is beginning its second year. This system guarantees 36 teams a starting spot in each race through ownership of transferable team charters. When first introduced, the charter structure was meant to fill the field on race day and guarantee strong racing.
However, cracks are starting to appear in the system. During NASCAR’s 2016 offseason Tommy Baldwin Racing and HScott Motorsports closed their doors for good. Richard Petty Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing were forced to downsize their teams. BK Racing lost its two full-time drivers, David Ragan and Matt DiBenedetto, and has no one lined up to replace them. Although JTG Daugherty and Furniture Row are adding cars, NASCAR will be going into next season with just 35 full-time chartered teams.
Although the size of the Cup Series fields is capped at 40 entries, meaning that up to 5 non-chartered teams can race their way in each weekend, there are currently no plans from such organizations to run a full schedule. Though BK Racing and Circle Sport have plans to run some one-off rides, there will be many races in 2016 with just 35 entrants. Sadly, this is a far cry from just 10-15 years ago. Back then, 50-some drivers brought cars to the track, competing to make the 43 car field on speed.
The introduction of the charter system has led to a sharp decline in the number of full fields, a troubling turn for the sport. Some might brush this off, noting that most of the exiting teams were backmarkers. These teams often ran many laps down with little sponsorship. However, this speaks to a greater structural problem within the sport. Small organizations struggle to compete and enter races as the cost of fielding a NASCAR team has become so high. With the exception of Furniture Row Racing, in the past 10 years no small team has become a weekly contender. The charter system locks in existing teams. However, new teams now struggle to enter the sport and be competitive without significant financial backing.
NASCAR has done little to fix this problem. The sanctioning body hasn’t taken serious measures to cut costs, help teams find sponsors, or otherwise reduce the cost of entry. Until it does, it will only become harder for smaller teams to enter and compete in the sport.
While the current chartered teams have little reason to complain, unless NASCAR addresses these issues its fields will continue to shrink.