LONG POND, Pa. – The biggest race for Michael Waltrip Racing might be one without a defined finish line.
Amid the subtext of co-owner Rob Kauffman agreeing to purchase an interest in Chip Ganassi Racing, and with primary sponsor Aaron’s not stating if it will return to MWR after this season, is a push to give teams greater value.
Call it franchising, although the most popular word being bandied about the Sprint Cup garage is medallion. Think of it like a taxi medallion – a city-issued license to operate a cab and often viewed as a sound investment because of its scarcity.
Just how a medallion system – or something similar – might work remains a question to many in the Sprint Cup garage. And how soon it might begin is another key question. Some think it could start as early as next year. Others say it’s further down the road. Questions abound on how many teams would be covered. Would it be 25, 30 or 43? Will it be based on this season’s owner points or performance in recent years?
If anything can help provide value to a team, the sooner the better. For all the buildings, cars, and equipment teams have, their true value is in sponsor contracts. If those deals go away and can’t be replaced, a team could cease and have to sell its equipment.
“Yeah the only thing they’ve got is equipment, which is 10 cents on the dollar, and land and buildings and shop equipment and everything else, which is 50 cents on the dollar,’’ Kyle Busch said.
Busch was fortunate that when he quit running his Xfinity team after the 2013 season, it moved to Joe Gibbs Racing. That came two years after Kevin Harvick sold his Camping World Truck teams and his Xfinity operation moved to Richard Childress Racing.
Others have not been as lucky through the years. Former drivers Ricky Rudd, Darrell Waltrip and Rusty Wallace saw teams they formed fade away when sponsors left, leaving them little.
That’s why the talks that have taken place behind the scenes provide hope to car owners that what they’ve invested could soon provide a return.
“It’s critical,’’ car owner Richard Childress said Friday at Pocono Raceway. “We’ve just got to have some long-term equity in these race teams and we don’t have it. NASCAR is aware of it, and they’re taking a deep look at everything.’’
Even for Childress’ success – six Sprint Cup championships – he’s had Chartwell Investments as a minority partner since 2003. The team first announced in July 2012 that Chartwell was considering selling its stake in the team. Chartwell announced in February it had retained a global investment bank to assist in selling its equity position.
While Childress talks about how important some sort of value for team owners is, Michael Waltrip has remained mum other than a statement this week about Kauffman’s intention to pursue a portion of Chip Ganassi Racing.
Clint Bowyer spoke on behalf of MWR on Friday at Pocono Raceway, saying: “There’s obviously change on the horizon and we’re going to have to work on the future and see what that looks like.’’
Bowyer, who reportedly could join Ganassi next year with the No. 15 team and Kauffman, said the focus for he and his team is on this season and making the Chase.
The quest for MWR is to stay around in whatever form possible in case NASCAR introduces a franchising model next year. That would provide value for MWR, which debuted in 2007 and is the only remaining original Toyota team after Bill Davis Racing closed in 2008 and Red Bull Racing left the sport after the 2011 season.
The hope among those in the garage is that a medallion system would create a value for a team so that an owner could sell their stake. Another benefit is that such a system could entice others to join the sport by coming on board as a partner. Additional money could improve the health of teams and ensure their viability.
“The sport is at a point,’’ Childress said, “(that) to be able to keep quality teams, NASCAR knows they’ve got to work in other areas to try to help all the teams survive.’’
That work can’t be completed soon enough for Michael Waltrip Racing.