Throughout its 67-year history, NASCAR has treated car owners as independent contractors. A team's worth is measured by its facilities, racing equipment and sponsorship contracts. That could change as early as 2016.
NASCAR and team owners have had discussions on ways that teams can have more long-term value. Whether that is through franchising or NASCAR offering a select number of licenses that guarantee starting spots remains to be determined.
Michael Waltrip Racing co-owner Rob Kauffman, who heads the Race Team Alliance business coalition of team owners, wouldn't go into details of the discussions the owners have had with NASCAR.
Asked Sunday about possible 2016 franchise or license models, Kauffman said, "What I can say is both NASCAR and the teams recognize that the teams building up some kind of long-term equity for participating in the sport, year in and year out and putting on the show, is a good thing. You look at a lot of other sports around the world, and that's how they work.
"So the question is can you come up with some model within the framework of NASCAR that makes sense for everybody. It's a very sensible concept. The hard part is the details. So we're having productive discussions to see if we can figure out how to do it. It's an ongoing project."
Some would say it's been an ongoing project for decades. From 2005 to 2012, NASCAR tried to give teams at least some racing security by guaranteeing the top 35 in the owners standings each week a starting spot. But that value was dependent on there being competition to make the 43-car field. A typical entry list this year has contained 43 to 45 cars, meaning most full-time teams are safely in the field under the current format, although only the top six in the owner standings are guaranteed positions.
Among the hurdles to implementing the system would be determining how much tenure a team must have had in the sport and how much of a fee an owner would pay.
Even with a franchise or a license to race, teams would need sponsorship to remain a viable entity. But that at least would give owners something to sell if they wanted to get out of the sport or possibly increase interest from outside investors.
"As always, we are working with all the race teams on a number of short- and long-term initiatives to ensure the sport remains healthy, strong and as competitive as it can be now and for decades to come," NASCAR chief operating officer Brent Dewar said in a statement to ESPN.com.
"We are having productive dialogue with everyone in the garage on a wide range of things and many good ideas are being exchanged. We're very pleased with the collaboration, but beyond that it wouldn't be appropriate to comment on any specifics of our discussions or to speculate on any timelines at this point."
Kauffman also stressed the need to keep the focus on the racing and not for the owners and NASCAR to play out these negotiations in public. That has been the typical approach of Kauffman as head of the RTA, whose formation when announced nearly one year ago (July 7, 2014) created significant publicity and speculation of a power play between the team owners and NASCAR.
"The conversations between the teams and NASCAR really are private. ... This kind of stuff is not really so interesting other than the fact that if the teams are around, they can invest for the future in developing talent and working together with NASCAR on rules changes and format changes and things to improve the show," Kauffman said.
"That's in everyone's interest, so that's what we're working on."
Team executives from five other organizations acknowledged the talks, and while optimistic that they could produce something tangible, they declined to comment.
"I don't know [what will happen] -- there are smarter people than me working on that," team owner Chip Ganassi said. "So I'm just trying to stay in the background."