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.”

MRTI: Road America preview

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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All three series of the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires were last in action on the same day – May 25 – though at separate venues. The Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires was at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Freedom 100, where Colton Herta emerged victorious.

Meanwhile, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda were at Lucas Oil Raceway for the Freedom 90 (Pro Mazda) and Freedom 75 (USF2000) – Parker Thompson and Kyle Kirkwood dominated their respective races and claimed victories to extend their championship leads.

All three series reunite at Road America for double headers this weekend, with a close title fight developing in Indy Lights, while the championship leaders in Pro Mazda and USF2000 (the aforementioned Thompson and Kirkwood) look to build on already strong leads.

Previews of all three series are below.

Indy Lights

  • Colton Herta enters Road America as the hottest driver in the Mazda Road to Indy, having swept the month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – he won both races on the IMS Road Course and outdueled Pato O’Ward, Dalton Kellett, and Santi Urrutia to win the Freedom 100. He leads O’Ward by six points, while Urrutia is 21 out of the lead, but don’t think that they’re the only ones who may factor into things.
  • Victor Franzoni had been getting better with every race, and had two podiums on the season entering the Freedom 100, but multiple problems saw him finish eighth and drop him to 50 points out of the lead. Franzoni appears to have the speed to challenge for wins, and he’ll need a win soon if he is to get into title contention.
  • Wisconsin native Aaron Telitz looks to rebound at his home track after a down weekend in the Freedom 100, in which he finished sixth. Teltiz had a run of fourth, third, and second in the three races prior, so the speed is most certainly there to steal a race win, and doing so at his home track would be a massive thrill for him.

Pro Mazda

Parker Thompson has been showing the way in Pro Mazda in 2018. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Parker Thompson has been the dominant Pro Mazda driver in the first half of the season, with three wins, five podiums, and a worst finish of fifth through seven races. As a result, Thompson holds a sizeable lead of 40 points over second-place Carlos Cunha. It’s way too early for anyone to start playing “prevent,” but Thompson is most certainly the man to beat at the moment.
  • Given that his Juncos Racing teammates, Rinus VeeKay and Robert Megennis, came into the season as perhaps slightly more heralded, it may surprise some that Cunha is the closest rival to Thompson at this point. Though he doesn’t yet have a win, he has back-to-back second place finishes, and also has a pair of third-place efforts this year as well. The 18-year-old Brazilian has made a big jump from last year, and a win may be beckoning for him this weekend.
  • Harrison Scott and David Malukas look to rebound after they crashed in the Freedom 90. It leaves them 68 points (Scott) and 78 points (Malukas) out of the lead. It will be tough for them to get back into title contention, but race wins and/or podiums at Road America would certainly be a big help regardless.
  • The aforementioned VeeKay looks to get back on championship form at Road America, which he swept last year, while teammate Megennis looks for back-to-back podiums after finishing third in the Freedom 90.

USF2000

Kyle Kirkwood currently has a huge USF2000 points lead. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Kyle Kirkwood is starting to run away with the USF2000 championship, with a staggering 59-point lead over second place Alex Baron. The 19-year-old from Florida has things far from wrapped up, but he certainly has a stranglehold of the championship at the moment, and if he can keep things clean, it will become harder and harder for drivers to make up ground.
  • Interestingly, title rival Baron is perhaps the faster driver of the two, but Baron’s season is plagued by a 22nd-place effort in Race 1 on the streets of St. Petersburg, and a 21st at the Freedom 90. He’ll need a string of race wins to get back into contention, and Road America would be a good place to start.
  • Jose Sierra sits third, only five points behind Baron, and looks to add to his two podiums this year (second in St. Pete Race 1, and third in Race 1 on the IMS Road Course). And, if both Kirkwood and Baron falter, he could be primed to steal a win.
  • Igor Fraga sits fourth and looks to continue a consistent effort from the opening five races, with fifth place drivers Lucas Kohl and Rasmus Lindh (tied on 74 points apiece) looking to do the same.
  • Kaylen Frederick got his first podium of the year in the Freedom 75, finishing second to Kirkwood. It is only his second finish inside the Top 10 this year (ninth in St. Pete Race 2 is the other), and he’ll look to build off that effort moving forward.

Pro Mazda has practice and Race 1 qualifying on Thursday, with Race 1 on Friday and Race 2 on Saturday. Indy Lights and USF2000 practice on Friday, with their races on Saturday (Race 1 for both) and Sunday (Race 2 for both). A full weekend schedule can be viewed here.

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