Nine multi-car Sprint Cup squads form Race Team Alliance

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Some of the biggest teams in the NASCAR garage have joined together in a “collaborative business association” known as the Race Team Alliance according to a release.

Nine teams in all have formed the RTA, which says in the release that “the purpose of the organization is 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.”

The teams involved all field multi-car efforts in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. They are: Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske.

Together, those nine teams field 25 full-time Cup programs (Hendrick and SHR have the biggest camps in the RTA with four programs apiece). However, the release notes that the RTA will open up membership to all full-time Cup teams “in the very near future.”

MWR co-owner Rob Kauffman has been named as the RTA’s first chair.

“With the encouragement of NASCAR and the manufacturers, the teams have met in various forms and forums over the years to explore areas of common interest,” Kauffman says in the release. “This simply formalizes what was an informal group. The key word is ‘collaboration’. We all have vested interests in the success and popularity of stock car racing.

“By working together and speaking with a single voice, it should be a simpler and smoother process to work with current and potential groups involved with the sport.

“Whether it be looking for industry-wide travel partners or collaborating on technical issues – the idea is to work together to increase revenue, spend more efficiently, and deliver more value to our partners.”

If this happens to sound like a union to you, you may not be alone in that sentiment. However, in comments this morning to Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press, Kauffman insisted that was not the case:

Shortly after the RTA put out its release, NASCAR issued a statement of their own through the sanctioning body’s vice president and chief communications officer, Brett Jewkes:

“We are aware of the alliance concept the team owners have announced, but have very few specifics on its structure or purpose. It is apparently still in development and we’re still learning about the details so it would be inappropriate to comment right now. NASCAR’s mission, as it has always been, is to create a fair playing field where anyone can come and compete. Our job is to support and strengthen all of the teams, large and small, across all of our series and we’ll continue to do that. NASCAR is a unique community with hundreds of stakeholders. They all have a voice and always will.”

Open-wheel racing has had several major instances of teams joining forces in associations.

In 1978, a group of dissatisfied USAC car owners, spurred on by Dan Gurney’s famous “White Paper,” formed CART, which eventually took over and held control of American open-wheel racing until Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Tony George formed the Indy Racing League (now the Verizon IndyCar Series) in 1994. Additionally, the Champ Car World Series that was born after CART’s demise at the end of 2003 was also headed up by an ownership group at the time.

This second split took a major toll on the sport, and while it reunified under the IndyCar banner in 2008, its former glory has yet to be recovered.

Over in Formula One, a group known as the Formula One Teams Association was formed in 2008 in order to work with the FIA and F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone. But while FOTA was able to help stop a possible collapse of the sport in 2009, it ultimately lost most of its political power and then went under completely.

These days, the F1 Strategy Group is the closest thing to a teams’ body in the series. However, only six of the bigger teams are involved in the Group – Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes, Red Bull, Williams and Lotus.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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