Drivers make their way through the track during a NASCAR...

Drivers make their way through the track during a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Sonoma Raceway, Sunday, June 9, 2024, in Sonoma, Calif. Credit: AP/Godofredo A. Vásquez

SONOMA, Calif. — NASCAR avoided one public relations nightmare last week when it granted Kyle Larson a waiver to participate in the playoffs even though he missed the Coca-Cola 600. That piece of goodwill hardly made things sunshine and roses over the weekend at Sonoma Raceway, where teams remained extremely frustrated with NASCAR’s slow pace at coming to a new charter agreement.

Multiple team owners told The Associated Press that NASCAR's most recent proposal — delivered almost two weeks ago — was one of the worst offers yet from the stock car series sanctioning body.

Among the complaints: The France family, which owns NASCAR as a private company, still won't budge on making the charters permanent, the series made rollbacks from previous offers and the proposal now includes a provision that would allow the France family/NASCAR to purchase charters, which are at the heart of the series' business model.

When team owners pushed back at NASCAR owning and operating race teams, they said they were sternly informed it is no different from IndyCar, which is owned by Roger Penske, who also fields three cars in that series. It also was noted that NASCAR owns the IMSA sports car series, and one of the teams is owned by chairman Jim France.

Many of the teams feel defeated and fear the showdown is headed toward a “take it or leave it offer” from NASCAR. Even though the teams in February voted to hire top antitrust sports attorney Jeffrey Kessler as an adviser, no movement has been made toward pursuing a case; a handful of teams seem reluctant to take any legal action.

There are currently 36 charters that guarantee entry into every race to the 15 teams that hold them. The charters expire at the end of this season and negotiations have been ongoing for several years on a new agreement. The major terms sought by teams include: Making the charters permanent, receiving 45% of traditional media revenue, receiving 33% of new revenue and a guaranteed seat at the table to give teams some governance power.

NASCAR's latest offer was for charters that are guaranteed for seven years, and an option for another seven years after that. It also included a cost cap and, in addition to the France family being allowed to buy charters, a provision in which NASCAR would allow private equity firms to buy into charters.

Fans watch a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Sonoma...

Fans watch a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Sonoma Raceway, Sunday, June 9, 2024, in Sonoma, Calif. Credit: AP/Godofredo A. Vásquez

“I think there’s still a ton of work to do. Not a little bit of work. Quite a bit. So that’s going to be the priority over the next few months to get this thing a little closer," Denny Hamlin, co-owner of 23XI Racing, said after NASCAR's offer was reviewed.

Stewart-Haas Racing announced last month it was shutting down at the end of the season, which put their four Cup Series charters on the market. The very next day, Front Row Motorsports said it had acquired a charter to expand to three teams next season. Front Row did not disclose how it got the charter or how much it spent; Spire Motorsports is believed to have spent $40 million last year when it purchased its latest charter.

At Sonoma, team owners wondered how a purchase price could have even been decided upon for Front Row since the current charters will be worthless at the end of the season if no deal is reached. Even SHR co-owner Tony Stewart was baffled by the interest in the team's four charters amid the uncertainty.

Teams are now worried that Front Row's announcement is an indication some of the smaller teams are ready to take NASCAR's offer despite an alliance that all 15 would stick together in negotiations. Yet there is no clear fallback plan.

Fans watch a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Sonoma...

Fans watch a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Sonoma Raceway, Sunday, June 9, 2024, in Sonoma, Calif. Credit: AP/Godofredo A. Vásquez

The teams don't want to start their own racing league, and believe NASCAR would move on without the likes of Hendrick Motorsports or Joe Gibbs Racing or Team Penske if they decided to boycott races. Such a scenario would leave it to fans to decide if the replacements — likely drivers and teams from lower-level series — provide a watchable product.

“It will be interesting to see how it all comes together, but I can speak for my group just saying we’d like to get a deal done sooner than later because certainly it’s hard to plan for the future when we don’t have a charter agreement and right now, we don’t,” Hamlin said on his podcast.

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