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.”