DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It was a lingering question from one of the biggest controversys of the NASCAR preseason.
Could the financial and political clout of allies Team Penske or Ford Motor Company have been leveraged to help secure a Sprint Cup charter for Wood Brothers Racing?
Co-owner Eddie Wood said Friday the team’s powerful partners weren’t approached about helping broker a deal because it wasn’t their responsibility.
“We just didn’t really talk about it,” Wood told NBC Sports. “It really wasn’t up to Team Penske. It was on us. It wasn’t Ford’s responsibility. We’ve got a great alliance with Team Penske, and the relationship with Ford Motor Co. is second to none in here. I’d put them up against any sponsor in this garage.
“So it shook out, we’re going to be an ‘open’ car, that’s the way it is, and we’ll go do it.”
Wood Brothers Racing has a sponsorship relationship with Ford through the Motorcraft brand, and the team receives chassis and technical support from Penske. It also got help from Penske in securing its driver (Ryan Blaney, a developmental driver with Penske) and crew chief (Jeremy Bullins, who moved over from a winning Xfinity car with Penske).
It will need that strength this season competing against the 36 teams that are guaranteed a spot in every Sprint Cup race. Wood Brothers Racing will be vying weekly for one of the four “open” slots because it didn’t qualify for a charter under the new system that was unveiled Tuesday.
Teams that attempted to qualify for every race since 2013 were granted charters, which guarantee multimillion-dollar annual payouts as well as attendance in every even in NASCAR’s premier series. On Friday, Rob Kauffman said it was NASCAR’s decision to determine charter eligibility, which the sanctioning body confirmed.
The 2016 season will mark the first full-time campaign of the famous No. 21 Fusion since 2008 for Wood Brothers Racing, and that’s why Wood kept reiterating in interviews Friday that “things will be OK” for a venerable team that began in tiny Stuart, Virginia in 1950.
“When you race as long as we have, this is not the worst thing we’ve ever been through,” Wood said. “(The charter system) is still kind of an unknown. A year from now, two years from now, we don’t really know what it’s going to look like. The value of them, somehow that’s going to work out.
“I just have an inner feeling that it’s going to be fine. We’re set up to run all year as an open car. That’s our biggest focus this year.”
There will be no additional charters granted, but the existing 36 can be sold – though it’s unclear what the going rate will be on the open market.
The charters that belonged to now-defunct Michael Waltrip Racing are being sold to Stewart-Haas Racing (No. 41 of Kurt Busch) and Joe Gibbs Racing (No. 19 of Carl Edwards). Race Team Alliance chairman Rob Kauffman, who controls the MWR charters as the team’s former majority owner, hasn’t disclosed a price but said he expected charters to sell in “the single-digit millions.”
Wood said his team knew the price would be too rich.
“We didn’t talk about buying one, because we knew those two (MWR charters) were probably going to be going to someone else,” he said. “You’re not going to go outbid Joe Gibbs or Gene Haas.”
In the long term, Wood Brothers Racing remains optimistic about its prospects for obtaining a charter and is working on finding additional sponsorship for this season and beyond.
“You don’t know what it’s going to look like,” he said. “Rick Hendrick, Roger Penske, Joe Gibbs … they’re not going to be giving up any (charters). But we’ll be listening to every opportunity about one that comes available. If you hear of any, let me know.”