DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Though Wood Brothers Racing has strong ties to Team Penske through its cars, driver and personnel, Roger Penske said helping its ally obtain a NASCAR charter wasn’t an option.
Because the Wood Brothers’ No. 21 Ford hadn’t run full time since 2008, it wasn’t granted one of the 36 charters awarded last week under a new business model of ownership that guarantees attendance and revenue for teams in the Sprint Cup Series.
Rob Kauffman, the Race Team Alliance chairman who brokered the charter agreement with NASCAR, had two charters for now-defunct Michael Waltrip Racing, but he sold them to Stewart-Haas Racing (the No. 41 of Kurt Busch) and Joe Gibbs Racing (the No. 19 of Carl Edwards). Those cars fell short of the criteria of running full time since 2013.
“There really wasn’t any opportunity because the two that were available went to the guys that had run the full season last year, which was SHR and Gibbs,” Penske said Saturday during the final Daytona 500 practice at Daytona International Speedway. “Really, we weren’t in the discussion. That was done between Kauffman and the two teams.”
Because Blaney is under a long-term deal with Penske that eventually could see him joining Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 and Joey Logano’s No. 22 as a true teammate in Cup, another charter might be on the horizon.
But Penske said it wasn’t urgent for his team or Wood Brothers, which has a technical alliance with Penske and a crew chief (Jeremy Bullins) who came from Penske.
“I think the Wood Brothers have got to make a decision,” Penske said. “We don’t need charters now. We have the 2 and 22, and it’s really up to the Woods Brothers long term what they want to do. They’re very comfortable running as an open car. We’re supporting them with equipment and technology and with that, they seem to be competitive.
“Blaney certainly has a great career. Ultimately, we’d like to go to three cars at some point, but that’s in the distant future.”
Wood Brothers Racing co-owner Eddie Wood said the responsibility was with his team, which is returning to a full season in 2016, to get a charter. Wood said he had an “inner feeling that it’s going to be fine” without a charter, despite lacking a guaranteed spot and earning less as an “open” team vying for one of four weekly spots.
Blaney qualified for the Daytona 500 and likely won’t be in danger of missing a race because of bad weather as the No. 21 did multiple times last year.
“Right now if it’s a rainout, we’re still in based on last year’s points,” Penske said. “I think the way we ended up, we get a couple of races under our belt, we should be in good shape. We won’t be one of the things like it happened (last) season where we missed three races because we had the fast car but couldn’t qualify because of the weather. That won’t happen again we hope.
“We have a long-term agreement with Ryan, and I think from the charter perspective, that’s something the Woods will have to decide long term. We’ll see what’s available as we go into this next season. There’s a lot of people talking, but at the moment, I think they’re doing the right thing taking the high road. We’re certainly satisfied with the two (charters) we have.”
Penske said he believes the team’s partnership with the Wood Brothers is mutually beneficial.
“We’re very involved with everything they’re doing,” he said. “We can mirror some of the things we’re learning, and it gives us a chance to build Ryan as a world-class driver without the pressure of maybe sitting underneath our banner.
“The Woods guys are so committed personally as a family. It’s great to be part of that with them. They’ve been friends of mine, (founding owners) Glen and Leonard, for 40 years. With Ryan, he’s got a great future. We certainly have supported him over the last couple of years. Brad has, and everyone has. That’s our decision, and the commitment we have to him going forward, more than just this year.”
There’s been much speculation of the going rate for a charter, which Kauffman estimated in “the single-digit millions.”
Does Penske, a businessman beyond repute, have a guess at what it might cost to buy into the game?
“I hope they’re worth a lot of money when I want to sell mine because we’ve invested a lot for I don’t know how many years,” he said with a laugh. “To me, it shows value. I think what it does is it provides an opportunity for people to invest, but also there is some value at the end. To me that’s important. We’re not just going out there running around start and parks. That’s gone away now.
“We’re going to have proper cars competing. That’s going to make the field better. There’ll be the opportunity to bring in new sponsors. Maybe the sponsors invest in you eventually. With a charter if they get to a value that’s high enough that makes sense, and there’s a reason for a sponsor to carry a charter. We don’t know yet.”
He is certain the new charter system is good for the industry as a whole.
“The charter deal is an excellent opportunity for all the teams,” Penske said. “I think what’s taken place is we’re running this more like a business. With the charters, you can invest. You build some value. Quite honestly, with the different business groups from the competition side, the technical side, the marketing side, we now are connecting at the levels within NASCAR, which make a huge difference.
“It’s only going to make the sport better. We’ll all be on the same side. I think there’s a process if we do have a disagreement that we can work through that, which is important. Overall, we’ve been pushing for this for a long time, and I was a big supporter from the very beginning.”