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NASCAR, RTA are communicating but not commenting much about it

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CHARLOTTE – The Race Team Alliance and NASCAR both proclaim to be having an active and ongoing conversation, but neither side is revealing much about what they’re saying.

RTA chairman Rob Kauffman deflected several questions Tuesday about the organization, which represents virtually every team in NASCAR’s premier series.

“I look at it more as talking about the plumbing in a house,” Kauffman, the co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing, said during his team’s stop on the annual preseason Media Tour. “It’s really the background. There’s not really much to talk about.

“I think the way I would say it is there’s a very active and constructive dialogue between the NASCAR folks and all the teams, through the RTA, really focusing on long-term issues that affect the sport. Healthy teams are in the interest of everybody, and that’s what we’re working on.”

The formation of the RTA last July was met with a fierce backlash from some quarters of the NASCAR industry. In a SiriusXM Radio interview, NASCAR Chairman Brian France said listening to the RTA was “a bad idea,” and Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman Bruton Smith was suspicious of the organization’s motives, saying “I don’t see anything that’s going to be good for the sport. Nothing.”

But the tone seemingly has softened with the dawn of the 2015 Sprint Cup season. NASCAR will have its annual preseason meeting with owners later this week, and France extended an olive branch during his state of the sport address Monday.

“We have conversations frequently with Rob and all the owners,” France said. “I think our position is we hope that they achieve their stated goals, and I think they’re working on them, and we don’t have a lot to do with that. They’re on their own timeline with all that, and we’re doing what we normally do, which is get input from everybody so that we can make really good decisions, and that’s the way it was, and that’s the way it will be.”

In announcing the RTA, Kauffman, who made a billion-dollar fortune as an investment banker who started the Fortress Investment Group hedge fund and private equity firm, has said the goals primary objective was cost savings by pooling its resources for better deals on insurance and travel costs. But he also indicated the group wanted to work more closely with NASCAR on the direction and promotion of the sport while also improving the team business model.

Smith and others have implied that the RTA’s ultimate goal is a form of franchising or revenue sharing that would help the owners gain a larger share of NASCAR wealth (the Sprint Cup Series embarks on a 10-year, $8.2 billion contract this year).

But when asked about franchising Tuesday, Kauffman said NASCAR and the RTA had been working hard to improve their rapport.

“Most well-run businesses have good communication lines,” he said. “We’re working on having really good communication between all the different counter parties. There’s regular communication between the teams, NASCAR, the RTA. The past six months have been very productive. We have a good open dialogue. We’re able to work on lots of issues together.

“Everything is driven off fans and popularity and exciting racing. If the racing is exciting and popular with the fans, you have growth, interest and excitement, and everything kind of builds from there. That’s what has happened over the past couple of decades. The focus is how do you grow the sport, grow interest, grow popularity and everything else will take care of itself.”

Kauffman said the RTA was making progress on cost efficiencies for travel (such as aviation, hotel and rental car deals) and employee benefits.

“It takes a little bit of time to get some of that stuff in place, but there’s a lot of initiatives,” he said. “You’re already seeing meaningful savings on the teams and stuff. It really is just efficiencies. The change in the testing policy was a big help to the teams in terms of costs.”

Race Team Alliance doubles membership to 18 teams

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When it formed just over a month ago, the Race Team Alliance was comprised of nine of the largest powerful organizations on the NASCAR Sprint Cup level.

Wednesday, the RTA announced it has now doubled its membership to 18 full-time Sprint Cup organizations, covering 37 full-time teams.

“One of the early goals of the Race Team Alliance was to expand our membership, and after only a month in existence, we have accomplished that goal,” RTA chairman Rob Kauffman said in a media release.

“We now have virtually all the full-time teams participating,” Kauffman said. “I think the membership as a whole is enthusiastic to get to work on some of the other items on our agenda, in particular some of the cost areas and marketing opportunities we have already identified.”

The organization was formed as a not-for-profit “business league … to create an open forum for the teams to explore areas of common interest and to work collaboratively on initiatives to help preserve, promote, and grow the sport of stock car racing.”

Here’s the updated RTA membership roster:

BK Racing

Circle Sport

Front Row

Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates

Germain Racing

Go Green / FAS Lane

Hendrick Motorsports

HScott Motorsports

Joe Gibbs Racing

JTG Racing

Michael Waltrip Racing

Phil Parsons Racing

Richard Childress Racing

Richard Petty Motorsports

Roush Fenway Racing

Stewart-Haas Racing

Team Penske

Tommy Baldwin Racing

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Richard Petty: RTA wants to “make NASCAR bigger and better”

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Another key member of the Race Team Alliance has said that their nine-team consortium is not out to pick a fight with NASCAR.

In Indianapolis, seven-time Sprint Cup champion Richard Petty insisted that any perception of the RTA having grand plans to take over the sport is false.

The two-car Richard Petty Motorsports team is part of the RTA, which officially formed earlier this month.

“Our main deal is not to run NASCAR,” Petty said to reporters Friday at IMS. “Anything we do to tear NASCAR down is cutting our own throats.

“We’re going to do everything we can to make NASCAR bigger and better. Because if we don’t, then we’re out of business.”

The RTA has maintained a stance of wanting to create a consensus voice that can relay concerns to the sanctioning body and work on cost-cutting in multiple areas such as team travel, insurance, and parts.

Petty stayed on that track in his comments at IMS, likening the situation to a farmer’s co-op.

“So far, that’s my main objective,” he said. “Can I save on insurance? Can I save on travel? Can I save [on] some stuff that we’re doing for the race car. Can we save time at the racetrack, stuff like that that we’ll keep from having to overpay with what we’re doing right now.”

However, NASCAR CEO Brian France recently said that he didn’t think the RTA’s formation was necessary and that the sanctioning body would be “dealing with all of the team owners – not most of them, not the big ones, but all of them.”

As you’d figure, Petty disagrees with France’s sentiments.

“It’s really kind of a bad idea from the standpoint that NASCAR should be doing what we’re doing,” he said. “We belong to an organization…And NASCAR should be making the best deals they can for their organization.

“We see them do a lot of that, but they’re not doing it as much as maybe the new crowd wants.”

NASCAR’s Brian France on RTA’s formation: “We didn’t think it was necessary”

Brian France

Two weekends ago at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, NASCAR president Mike Helton said that, for now, there was no ill will between the sanctioning body and the consortium of multi-car Sprint Cup teams known as the Race Team Alliance.

But today, in a wide-ranging interview on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, Helton’s boss – NASCAR Chairman/CEO Brian France – addressed the RTA’s formation by saying “we didn’t think it was necessary.”

“We think the benefits they would arrive at with this association would be much smaller than they do,” France continued. “They’re smart guys and they may figure out some things that we’re not aware of.

“But on balance, I would say two things – one, the idea that they don’t know how many employees they have or what their costs are and this is a way to tackle that, that’s terrific. We certainly want them to get those kinds of answers for sure.

“The one thing that is central to NASCAR though, is when you deal with one voice, that would probably be the worst thing we could ever do – and that’s to listen to one voice, even it was a consensus voice. Every decision that we’ve ever made that was important, the more input, the more people we heard from, the better the result.”

France answered another question by stating that while NASCAR would respect the owners involved in the RTA being “entitled to approach the business in different ways,” the sanctioning body planned to “go down the road dealing with all of the team owners – not most of them, not the big ones, but all of them.”

“…Whenever we do something – and we’re working on all kinds of things now – these are never simple things,” he added. “Drivers, crew chiefs, engineers – we always pick their brains on things because it’s not always black or white if we go one way or that way on whether it actually lowers costs or it actually improves racing.

“The last thing we would want to do is not talk to everybody so where we can find where the truth lies.”

This month’s emergence of the RTA, which is made up of nine of the sport’s most powerful teams, has generated a wide range of opinions.

Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, drivers for RTA squad Hendrick Motorsports, insist that the group’s efforts will help the sport. On the other side, race track owner Bruton Smith has expressed his annoyance.

So far, the RTA has remained silent on its long-term agenda outside of creating cost-cutting initiatives for its members. Its chairman, Michael Waltrip Racing co-owner Rob Kauffman, has said that the RTA wants to take a collaborative stance with NASCAR.

“…That’s the high road and the right road, so why do anything other than that?,” Kauffman said in a recent interview with NBCSN contributor Nate Ryan.

“There are other questions that are obvious and will be resolved over time. To the extent we’re a party to those, we’ll try to be productive and collaborative. We’ll see how it plays out. It makes for a less exciting story, but a better business.”

Jeff Gordon talks RTA, minimum speeds, and inaugural Brickyard 400 win

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The ongoing saga of the Race Team Alliance – the “collaborative business association” that nine of the sport’s biggest teams formed early last week – progressed a bit at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Race track magnate Bruton Smith slammed the RTA. Reigning Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson (a member of RTA squad Hendrick Motorsports) defended it. And NASCAR president Mike Helton tried to downplay any chatter involving animosity between the RTA and the sanctioning body.

Additionally, RTA chairman and Michael Waltrip Racing co-owner Rob Kauffman said that the group was now open to taking in new teams – so long as said teams have attempted to qualify in 95 percent of the 72 Sprint Cup races that have been run over the past two years.

Now, another Hendrick driver has stepped up to voice his support for the RTA. Four-time Cup champ and current points leader Jeff Gordon said in a teleconference this morning that the group’s formation will benefit the sport in the long term.

“They need to be able to do business, and it’s turned into a big business, and it’s constantly growing,” Gordon said in reference to the teams. “I’m in support of it because if the teams are strong and more successful, then that’s good for us that are part of the team.

“It’s good for the sport, it’s good for the fans, and so, I think that this is definitely going to be something that we’re all going to learn from and grow from, but I think it’s something that definitely is only going to be good for the sport in general.”

Gordon also stressed that the RTA was truly a “team alliance,” not an owner alliance.

“Some people are saying that, but to me, it’s what’s going to make the teams more efficient, stronger, more profitable. And to me, that includes the drivers,” he added. “That includes all the employees on each of those teams; I think that it’s in a lot of ways covering us, as well. We’re aligned with the teams.

“I have a contract with a team and I want that team to be strong. Because I know if that team is strong, then that secures my position as a driver. It secures our sponsors and only helps us with our partners and our fans.”

In addition to the RTA, Gordon also touched upon yesterday’s crash involving Joey Logano and the lapped car of Morgan Shepherd.

The incident has brought up the matter of minimum speeds in Sprint Cup races, and Gordon indicated that he’d like to see that minimum raised at certain tracks.

“I don’t think [drivers] have any place out there if they’re running that slow – whether you’re a car that’s had damage and you can’t maintain the minimum speed, or is the minimum speed the proper speed,” said Gordon.

However, Gordon noted that at places like New Hampshire, the minimum speed can be hard to truly measure. A car can perhaps meet the minimum in clean air, but with traffic at a constant, clean air is hard to come by.

“How do we truly measure minimum speed because if you do it every lap that they’re getting passed by a faster car, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t make minimum speed,” Gordon said.

“So I think NASCAR maybe looks at sometimes once they get into clean air are they making minimum speed. And at a place like New Hampshire or Martinsville, they’re never in clean air, and I don’t think they’re ever going to make minimum speed.”

Mixed in between talk on those two subjects were memories of Gordon’s 1994 win in the inaugural Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

This year’s running, which takes place on July 27 after Sprint Cup takes a weekend off, marks the 20th anniversary of that triumph.

“Most of the things that stand out to me was really about just the madness and craziness of how big that event was, how popular it was among fans – not just traditional NASCAR fans but new fans to the sport,” Gordon recalled.

“Even if you go back to the [pre-race] test that we had, the fans were just lined up on the fence around the garage area just wanting to see stock cars race at Indianapolis, and it was much of the same when it came to race day – just so many fans and you just couldn’t walk anywhere without getting mobbed.

“That just showed you the impact and significance of that inaugural event.”