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Friday 5: Market grows for NASCAR charters

Dale Jarrett, Dustin Long, and Jac Collinsworth unpack Martin Truex Jr.'s dominance at Darlington, discuss solid outings by Ryan Blaney and Chase Briscoe, and explain how the early-season results can impact the playoffs.

The pursuit of NASCAR charters could be as competitive as the racing in a year that has seen 10 different winners in 12 Cup races.

Two car owners tell NBC Sports that they are open to dealing charters. This comes as interest in Cup ownership has grown with the Next Gen car’s debut in 2022.

Car owner Rick Ware, whose team operates four charters, tells NBC Sports that he’s more inclined to lease a charter than sell one at this point.

“We have some options on the table for some leases and it’s one thing that we’re looking at,” Ware said. “We’re open to all scenarios.”

Ware notes that a deal might include more than cash.

“I think there are maybe some opportunities there to maybe assist some manufacturers that maybe want other people to come in,” he said. “Right now, I’m trying to negotiate the best road for RWR and that may be leasing to somebody in particular that helps the program from a technology share, those kind of things.”

As for how many teams he plans to have next season, Ware said: “If I would have to make a guess right now, I’d say we’d be running three full-time cars next year.”

T.J. Puchyr, co-owner of Spire Motorsports, tells NBC Sports that he’s also had conversations about a charter.

“It’s been mild, but I think it will get busier,” he said.

Puchyr also said he would consider acquiring a charter.

“Somebody asks me if I’m a buyer or seller, I’m yes (to both),” he said.

There could be many buyers.

Three new Cup teams joined this year, but Trackhouse Racing is the only one of those leasing a charter. Leases are good for one year. Each charter can be leased once in a four-year period.

Trackhouse Racing will need to either lease another charter or purchase one for next season.

“I lose a little bit of sleep each night because we don’t own a charter,” car owner Justin Marks said in late March. “ … I’m working every day in the direction of trying to secure our future by orchestrating ownership and acquisition of a charter. It is not getting easier. It is getting harder.”

Also in need of a charter will be Kaulig Racing. Car owner Matt Kaulig told NBC Sports in late April that he’s confident he’ll acquire one for next season, saying: “I certainly don’t lose sleep over it.”

23XI Racing hopes to expand from a one-car team but has not given a definitive timetable. It will need a charter whenever it adds another Toyota.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. said in April that he and sister Kelley Earnhardt Miller, co-owners of JR Motorsports, have discussed fielding a Cup team and securing a charter. He said that “the charter system makes it a big challenge for us. That’s a huge financial challenge for anybody trying to get involved in the Cup Series.”

JTG Daugherty Racing is running Ryan Preece’s No. 37 team without a charter this season. There are other groups also looking to enter Cup and secure a charter.

Rick Ware Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing have four charters each, giving them 16 of the 36 charters. Each charter guarantees its car a start in each race. Charters also provide a specific payment plan so teams can better prepare a budget before each season.

For Ware, collecting four charters was an opportunity to build his race team for when the Next Gen car arrived.

He formed a partnership in 2019 with Richard Petty Motorsports to create Petty-Ware Racing and use RPM’s second charter.

Ware purchased a Front Row Motorsports charter in 2019 that had been leased to Tri-Star Motorsports in 2018.

Ware also purchased a charter from Front Row Motorsports in 2020 that Front Row acquired in 2018 for $2.08 million (along with assets) as part of BK Racing’s bankruptcy case.

Ware’s other charter was purchased from Premium Motorsports last year.

“I knew for sure that if you wanted to have longevity in this business, you had to have a charter,” Ware told NBC Sports. “We sacrificed a lot the last two or three years family-wise, business-wise to make sure that we could have a quality baseline model. We brought in a lot of new sponsors that we’re going to be keeping. But we can’t grow without knowing where we’re going to be. We’ve taken lot of lumps both, I think, on the track and in the media, but there really is a plan.”

With the Next Gen car, Ware can begin to act on his plan. The new car is intended to lower costs over the long term. Vendors will provide several parts and pieces instead instead of teams doing so. Team owners, though, are expected to face an increase in costs next year because the transition to the new car will make some equipment obsolete.

“Now that the new car is here, we can start to justify spending money going forward with the new car,” Ware said. “In all honesty, we spent all our money doing what I thought was more important and that was making sure we had a future with the charters.

“Spending money on R&D on a car that is going to be done in six months didn’t make any sense to me. Now our goal is to step our programs up across the board, and I’m excited about this new car.”

2. Steady Progress

Among those in the top 20 in points, only Christopher Bell (plus 13 positions), William Byron (+12) and Michael McDowell (+8) have gained more spots than Chris Buescher after 12 races this season compared to the same number of events last year.

The second-year Roush Fenway Racing driver enters Sunday’s race at Dover International Speedway (2 p.m. ET on FS1) 13th in the points. He was 19th at this time. He’s scored 54 more points — nearly a full race worth — than he had after 12 races last year.

The difference is simple, Buescher said.

“No. 1 is getting that first year down, new team, new crew chief,” Buescher told NBC Sports. “No practice (last season) just put us behind for a long period of time. I think we were finding our stride at the end of year that is helping us get more consistent.

“Some of the gains that came through the offseason were really a matter of everyone in all of their departments setting goals, working hard to find those and really achieving a lot of those goals, whether it was less drag or better sim development or better body builds. … That’s always the plan through the offseason, but I saw more structure than I’ve ever seen.”

NASCAR Cup Series Goodyear 400

DARLINGTON, SOUTH CAROLINA - MAY 09: Chris Buescher, driver of the #17 Fifth Third Bank Ford, drives during the NASCAR Cup Series Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway on May 09, 2021 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

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Buescher has fared best on 1.5-mile speedways this year. He finished a season-best seventh at Atlanta, placed eighth at Kansas and won a stage at Homestead. He finished ninth last weekend at Darlington, which followed the Kansas run and gave him back-to-back top 10s for the first time this season.

Even with the success, he recognizes the challenges to make the playoffs. With 10 winners and Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick likely to win before the regular season ends, there could be no more than three playoff spots available via points.

“We’re in a good place right now, but we’re not locked in by any means and definitely a lot can change between now and (the regular-season finale) at Daytona,” Buescher said. “We’re watching it, but we’re not racing specifically for points. We’re going after running well. If you can run top 10 every week, you’ll gather a couple of stage points here and there and ultimately finish well. That’s where, I think, it’s added up for us.

“We’re not making crazy moves to try to gather a stage win at the expense of a finish. We’re being smart about it, and we’re racing ourselves. (Points are) going to become more important really quickly, especially if we’re not able to wrap up a win in the next couple of weeks.”

He might have had a better finish at Kansas had NASCAR not waited to throw a caution for an errant tire until after he pitted.

The tire rolled away from Tyler Reddick’s pit crew during his stop on Lap 212 of the 267-lap race and went across pit road. The tire came to rest in the infield grass, just off pit road.

NASCAR did not throw a caution flag since the field was in the middle of green-flag pit stops. A few drivers, though, stretched their run. A caution would have benefitted them by having part of the field a lap behind.

Buescher was the final driver to pit in the cycle, giving up the lead on Lap 226. The caution came out on Lap 231 to retrieve the tire.

“The way I see it is if it was dangerous after 10 laps, it was dangerous after one,” Buescher told NBC Sports. “Now, I’ve been bitten by this because it’s been called early, so I guess I’m even more discouraged by it happening this way. It’s a safety thing, then it’s a safety thing, period, and it doesn’t matter about what the situation is.

“The explanation for it (from NASCAR) was we wanted to let strategies play out, right? Well, that sounds great, but our strategy was running long to hope for a caution. So, really, it took away from our strategy.”

Buescher also said that how NASCAR called that caution “was not something that completely changed our day. It didn’t do us any favors, but it didn’t just destroy our day. … Looking back, it’s just, man, we expected there to be a caution just based off of previous circumstances. Just wishing for more consistency in everything. It would just help you let your own strategies play out.”

3. Chasing points

For as good as Martin Truex Jr. has been this season in scoring three wins, he remains a distant second to Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin in the points.

As the series hits the halfway mark of the regular season this weekend, Hamlin leads the points. He has a 75-point lead on Truex, who is second in the standings.

Is it realistic to think Truex can catch Hamlin?

Darlington winners and losers

DARLINGTON, SOUTH CAROLINA - MAY 09: Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway on May 09, 2021 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Getty Images

“It’s doable for sure,” said Truex, who dominated last weekend’s race at Darlington. “It’s obviously going to take a little bit of rough luck on their part. We’ve had a couple bad races and that’s really the difference. Wrecked at Daytona, wrecked at Talladega, and a flat tire on the last green-white-checkered at Bristol really hurt us.”

Truex admits that when it comes to points, he’s thinking about playoff points. He has a series-high 18 playoff points. Next is Kyle Larson with nine.

“Winning races, winning stages that’s what we need to do, and that’s what we did this past weekend,” he said. “It would be great to win the regular season because that’s a chunk of those points as well. We’ll see how it goes. We’re in a good place and focused on what we’re doing.”

Truex has a good chance of scoring more playoff points this weekend at Dover. He’s finished first or second in each of the last four Dover races.

4. Seeking better results

This hasn’t been the start Corey LaJoie hoped. He heads to Dover 30th in points in his first season with Spire Motorsports.

“I think, on paper, we are probably a minus, but I think internally, we are better off,” LaJoie said of how he measures his season. “We had mechanical failures early. We had an engine break and a couple of things happen. We had a really good run at Martinsville. We should have probably had a top-10 result there, but we got caught up on pit road. We’ve had four DNF’s, so if we clean those up, then we’re 24th or 25th in points, which I feel like really over-achieving for what we set out to do.

“But we’re sitting there in 30th … in points, and still pretty bullish on what we’re capable of doing. It was a little bit more of a transition than I expected from the Ford Mustangs we ran last year (with Go Fas Racing) and transferring the set-ups over to these Ganassi Camaros, the aero balance was a little bit different.

“They had a little bit more front downforce, so we had to adjust, and we probably threw away three or four weeks on intermediate tracks to get that balance figured out. But I think we’ve got a pretty good handle on what these cars need to make some speed, and I was pretty happy with how we ran at Darlington. We were probably a 20th- to 23rd-place car (finishing 22nd) … and I think for us, that’s checking the boxes and incrementally getting better and figuring out the things we need to do to get better throughout the year.”

5. Scoring stage points

Here is a look at who has scored the most stage points after 12 races this season.

172 - Denny Hamlin

117 - Martin Truex Jr.

115 - Ryan Blaney

100 - Kyle Larson

99 - Joey Logano

96 - William Byron

89 - Chase Elliott

85 - Brad Keselowski

74 - Kyle Busch

58 - Alex Bowman

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