DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – NASCAR's new charter system was introduced as a monumental moment in auto racing — a triumphant merger between a one-time dictatorship and a group of team owners finally organized enough to demand their fair share of the financials.
The franchise-type model introduced days before teams arrived at Daytona International Speedway has been celebrated for a series wracked with instability because of an independent-contractor model that forced competitors to heavily rely on sponsorship.
Now the owners are guaranteed a bigger chunk of the pot and 36 slots in the field every week.
The drivers? Well, most aren't so certain how good of a deal this is for their bottom line.
"I think anyone would like to know before the terms of their employment change, but that is not the situation," Brad Keselowski said. "I am aware of the fact that I am a race car driver, and no matter what happens, I am still going to be OK. I am not looking for anyone to feel bad for me. On the other side, it is not ideal.
"It would be like if your employer just said, 'Hey, don't worry about it, you will get paid.' That is kind of where most every driver is."
The charter system has completely overhauled how drivers will be paid. Drivers typically negotiated individual contracts with team owners in which they were promised specific salaries and percentages of each week's purse.
The new system has set aside a fixed portion of the purse for the 36 charter teams, and an additional portion that goes to charter teams based on a performance scale. Starting with last weekend's exhibition race at Daytona, the race winnings and total purse were not publicized as had been the norm. NASCAR had touted transparency in the charter agreement, but now the public — and some drivers — won't know how prize money was distributed.
Drivers said that when the final charter deal was signed by NASCAR and team owners, the language surrounding their method of pay differed from what they had been led to believe. Most are now scrambling to renegotiate the driver compensation part of their contracts.
"I think that everyone will have to have something redone within their contract," Denny Hamlin said. "There's verbiage in stuff that has changed how drivers get paid from the purse. There's not one common standard that one driver or team offers that's going to be the same. It's up to the individual driver and owner to work out those details."
Many weren't concerned about ultimately finding a fair solution with their respective owners.
Some weren't pleased with the timing.
"Everybody knew there was going to be some contractual stuff that we had to work through," Kevin Harvick said. "For me, I wanted it to happen as openly and as quick as possible because I didn't want it to linger and have things be brought up that really didn't need to be brought up and cause tension between teams.
"That was my ultimate goal. I'm not going to sit around and pinch pennies just because of the fact I think I'm being treated unfairly. I want to just be treated fairly. That was really all that I was looking for. I felt like our team did that."
Two years ago, drivers wanting a larger voice in industry issues created a text chain that allowed them to vent and debate solutions. At the time, their biggest concern was the direction of the on-track product.
Over time, their confidence grew and they asked to be heard on competition matters. They also wanted to know what was going on behind the scenes with their bosses and the NASCAR brass. It led to a creation of an elected driver council.
Last year's inaugural 10-member council included Hamlin, Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle, Jamie McMurray and Jeff Gordon.
Because NASCAR trimmed the field by three cars to 40, the driver council was cut to nine this season. Gone are Bowyer, Biffle, McMurray and Gordon, replaced by Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and current NASCAR champion Kyle Busch.
The council is taking some credit for the creation of a new overtime rule instituted this year, and the drivers hope their collective voice will ensure all of them get proper compensation under the new charter system.
"It's starting to show its potential. I think trying to get all the other drivers to understand that it is important is crucial," Earnhardt said. "The council that we have, they're not the nine smartest guys. They're just the guys that drivers voted for to represent them because we need a small group so that the voice is clear instead of having 43 drivers in there or whatever. That would be pretty noisy and messy."