-- CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- NASCAR has granted 36 licenses to 19 owners to compete in Sprint Cup races starting this season as part of a nine-year agreement with the teams that also will cut fields from 43 to 40 cars.
The agreement is historic in the NASCAR sense that it never has had a contract with teams that guaranteed a starting position as well as a certain amount of revenue. It has had rules that guaranteed spots to car owners based on points position but has never had this close to a franchising system.
NASCAR granted the 36 licenses -- what it will call "charters" -- for every car that had attempted to qualify for every race since 2013. Anyone without a charter has two choices: buy one from an existing owner or attempt to qualify for one of the four open spots each week.
There are 38 teams committed to full-time racing in 2016. Four weren't awarded charters -- Joe Gibbs Racing's Carl Edwards (team started in 2015), Stewart-Haas Racing's Kurt Busch (2014), HScott Motorsports' Michael Annett (2015) and Wood Brothers Racing's Ryan Blaney (formerly part-time team now going full time).
Former Michael Waltrip Racing owner Rob Kauffman, who has two charters from his teams that ceased operations after last year, said he expects to sell his charters to JGR (for Edwards) and SHR (for Busch). Kauffman estimated the value of a charter at the "single-digit millions."
The transfer of a charter must be approved by NASCAR, which will charge an administrative fee but not get a percentage of the sale. All NASCAR team owners will be allowed to see the transfer application, which would include the price of the charter sold. Charters can be sold only before the start of a season and can be transferred only once every five years.
Because teams will be able to guarantee sponsors that they will start the race and can project revenues not based on performance but the new agreement, they should have an easier time attracting sponsors as well as more money from potential investors and buyers.
"We believe we made the team-owner model more reliable, more stable, more open, more open to new investors, more capital to come into the sport, and we've done that in the way that preserves a lot of the traditions that are important to NASCAR," NASCAR chairman Brian France said.
"The competition level, how we qualify for events and the fact that if you have talent and the aspiration to join NASCAR, you can do that in the new model as you could in the old. But in the end, we have a model that fits in the 21st century and will serve us well into the future."
NASCAR did not reveal the financials of the system, nor did it say what the performance clause would be to keep a charter. But a charter does require a team to field a car for every race.
The nine-year agreement corresponds with the length of the television deal with Fox and NBC, which runs through 2024. NASCAR said it will announce Thursday its qualifying procedures for the Daytona 500 and other races as well as any changes to its points system, which has been on a 43-to-1 scale with bonus points for wins and leading laps.
While compared to franchising, the deal does not include revenue sharing among the teams. It does, however, give the owners more ability to make money through NASCAR's digital operations. NASCAR also created a Team Owner Council that will have formal input into long-term decisions on rules and NASCAR policy.
"The drivers and the owners now can really work across the aisle," NASCAR Hall of Famer and team owner Richard Petty said. "It's sort of like the Democrats and Republicans. They've been doing their thing and we've been doing our thing and meeting in the middle. We're getting rid of that.
"We're all going to be in the middle of the deal. ... Now we're going to be in the same room, talking about the same problems and solving the problems together. From that standpoint, it's going to be one of the greatest things that's ever happened to NASCAR."
There is a four-charter limit for team owners. Assuming the MWR charters go to JGR and SHR, they will join Hendrick Motorsports with four charters apiece. Richard Childress Racing and Roush Fenway Racing have three. Earning two charters were Chip Ganassi Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports, Team Penske, Front Row Motorsports and BK Racing.
The other charters went to Furniture Row Racing, JTG Daugherty Racing, Tommy Baldwin Racing, German Racing, Go FAS Racing, Premium Motorsports, HScott Motorsports and Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing.