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Imagine buying a used car the state won’t let you register because the previous owner racked up $300 in tickets. If you’re Kurt Busch, you kind of know the feeling on the eve of the NASCAR Cup Series season.

In order to simplify the process for Busch to compete as part of the newly expanded 23XI Racing, owners Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin bought one of the 36 charters last offseason. Unfortunately, it came with strings attached.

Nearly a third of NASCAR’s 36 charters changed hands in the offseason

Charters are NASCAR’s version of franchises for cars in the Cup Series. The governing body of the sport created the charter system in 2016, primarily to give teams a tangible asset to sell or lease.

The value of the charter is two-fold. Owning one guarantees a spot in all points races, and those cars are eligible for larger portions of the purse based on race finishes. Owners without a charter, as was the case with Ryan Preece driving for JTG Daugherty Racing a year ago, can still enter their car, but they have to go through qualifying if more than four non-chartered cars show up.

Charters, like the 10 that changed hands in the offseason, remain incredibly cheap compared to the prices billionaires pay for NFL or NBA franchises, but inflation has hit the industry. For the first time, multiple charters sold for more than $10 million apiece. That was fueled in part by new teams like Kaulig Racing and GMS Racing entering the Cup Series.

In the case of 23XI Racing, the team signed Kurt Busch after Chip Ganassi sold off its NASCAR operation, and Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin bought the charter belonging to StarCom Racing, which shuttered its team.

23XI Racing’s charter for Kurt Busch’s Cup Series at risk

NASCAR driver Kurt Busch poses for a photo during NASCAR Production Days at Clutch Studios on Jan. 19, 2022, in Concord, North Carolina. | Chris Graythen/Getty Images
NASCAR driver Kurt Busch poses for a photo during NASCAR Production Days at Clutch Studios on Jan. 19, 2022, in Concord, North Carolina. | Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Let’s be clear upfront: Michael Jordan’s 23XI Racing team won’t have to surrender the charter attached to Kurt Busch’s No. 45 Toyota. Busch will accumulate enough points in the first half-dozen or so races to make the issue moot. But just the fact that there’s a risk is preposterous.

The 23XI Racing outfit started from scratch a year ago, with Bubba Wallace driving the No. 23 Toyota. The team bought its charter from Germain Racing, which folded after losing the GEICO sponsorship on Ty Dillon’s No. 13 Chevy.

When Busch became a free agent, 23XI signed him and went shopping for another charter. Less than a week after the season, the organization confirmed that it bought the one Quin Houff’s No. 00 Chevy carried at StarCom Racing.

The deal came with a catch: The No. 00 car placed in the bottom three of the standings for chartered cars the past two seasons, not surprising since the only notable finishes were 13th and 19th at Talladega.

However, the rules allow NASCAR to revoke the charter of a car finishing in the bottom three in three consecutive years. The fact 23XI Racing didn’t own the charter in 2020-21 is irrelevant in NASCAR’s eyes.

There are two bits of good news. First, NASCAR has never revoked a charter under that rule. Second, Busch hasn’t finished outside the top 25 since 2001.

Still, the fact there’s even the remote possibility of losing the charter is ridiculous.

Kurt Busch isn’t the only driver under a charter cloud

A year ago, Corey LaJoie drove the No. 7 Chevy and Justin Haley was behind the wheel of the No. 77 Chevy, both for Spire Motorsports, and the cars placed 29th and 31st, respectively, in owner points. Spire subsequently sold the No. 77 charter to Kaulig Racing, which has brought in Haley to drive in 2022.

Meanwhile, Spire reassigned its remaining charter to its No. 77 car (while charters can transfer, car numbers stay with the team), which Josh Bilicki and Landon Cassill will drive this season. To complete the wheeling and dealing, the fourth-year Cup Series team bought the charter from the Rick Ware Racing No. 53 car and slapped it on its No. 7 Chevy for LaJoie.

That could be a ticklish situation. As is the case with Kurt Busch, LaJoie goes into the season with two strikes against him because of dismal results attached to the charter the past two seasons. Unlike Busch, LaJoie has never finished better than 29th in points in five seasons.

So, if there’s a team that might be keeping an eye out for the repo man come early November, it would be Spire Motorsports.

All stats courtesy of Racing Reference.


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