Turn 4 TV: The Race Team Alliance
Is a drivers' alliance next?
LOUDON, N.H. -- NASCAR president Mike Helton on Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway directly addressed the formation of the Race Team Alliance earlier in the week. He soon may have something else to worry about.
Six-time and defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson supports the RTA concept and wonders if maybe drivers should follow suit.
"That opportunity is definitely there," Johnson said. "I don't know where others stand and feel with it. I haven't put any thought into it myself. I guess in some ways Pandora's box has been opened with this topic and discussion. We will see where it leads. Again, the way I see this is everybody cares for our sport and people are trying to be more organized to help lead and direct our sport in all ways. We will see what the future holds and I feel like there is a positive outcome.
"This is a good thing. I don't feel like this is going to drive separation or a split [in the sport]. And I don't even know where that separation or split would take place. The things that have been discussed through the RTA, it's all about saving costs. It's all about driving costs down. I don't see how that's a bad thing. I know the conversation is owners against NASCAR, but NASCAR is trying to help bring costs down. So is the RTA. I think everybody is working the same direction."
The RTA, announced Monday, involves nine multicar teams with goals that include lowering costs and creating one entity to talk to NASCAR about issues facing the teams.
Michael Waltrip Racing co-owner Rob Kauffman has been elected the RTA's chairman. Another goal is to get all of the teams in NASCAR involved outside the current members (Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates; Hendrick Motorsports; Joe Gibbs Racing; MWR; Richard Childress Racing; Richard Petty Motor Sports; Roush Fenway Racing; Stewart-Haas Racing; and Team Penske).
"We will continue to do business the way we've done business," Helton said earlier Friday.
An example of that, though, is the way NASCAR quashed a drivers' walkout, led by Richard Petty, before the 1969 race at Talladega. It was the first race held there and many of the regulars of the day were concerned about safety on the mammoth 2.66-mile high-banked track, the longest and fastest in NASCAR. Petty led many of the regular drivers out of the track, and "Big" Bill France, czar of NASCAR at the time, found replacement drivers to run the race.
When that race proved successful, any thought of a drivers' union was seen as a road to nowhere.
But we may be a long way from a repeat of that, as Johnson sees it.
"I just don't see any downside in the owners working closer together in sharing what is important to them, what is important to them to run their business, to run a successful business and to be able to put a race car in the field each week. I don't see anything wrong with that," he said. "That environment is there today, it is a far looser structure than it has been and now hopefully it's going in a direction where there could be a more calm and clear voice. If it is within our own industry from a team owner's side, if it's directed toward NASCAR, directed towards license merchandising, a variety of angles, this could be beneficial in a lot of ways to have a clear voice."
Kyle Busch rolls to pole
Kyle Busch finished second in the July race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last year. He's going to start on the pole for the Camping World RV Sales 301 on Sunday, but knows all too well it's how you finish.
"We've been close here," he said. "I think the biggest thing is I always like to be able to take off and go and when I can take off and go -- it usually means I'm too tight halfway through the run and on after that -- and that's when those guys seem to be able to beat us. The second race last year we ran a lot better on the long run, but the race was a little too short and I ran out of time to our teammate [Matt Kenseth].
"All in all, 1-2 [finish] by [Joe Gibbs Racing], so we'll see if we can put the 18 out front."
Jimmie Johnson will start on the outside of the front row. Busch's teammate Denny Hamlin will start third and Tony Stewart fourth. Jamie McMurray, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr., Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top 12, the drivers who made it into the final round of knockout qualifying.
Busch's time of 27.574 seconds at 138.130 mph was the 13th track qualifying record set this season. Busch, who has won 15 poles in his Sprint Cup career, earned his second pole of the season and it will be his eighth top-10 start of 2014.
For Johnson, it was a good day but not a perfect one.
"Of course we want to get the pole, want to be faster, but Kyle found a little bit more out there than us," he said. "We feel really good about our Lowe's Chevrolet. We did some race runs to start practice off. The car was right where we wanted it based on our test session here a month ago and [qualifying] trim went really well too.
"This helps make the weekend so much easier to race. You get a good pit-stall pick, good track position and you can fine-tune from here. Hopefully we will be able to fine-tune and make a race-winning car."
What they're tweeting ...
Larson learning quickly
Sprint Cup rookie Kyle Larson is proving to be a quick study with media questions, something he flashed again Friday.
Race teams get four tests per season. Asked if using up one of his Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates tests at New Hampshire a few weeks ago was aimed at getting him and teammate Jamie McMurray better shots at making the Chase, he didn't hesitate.
"I'm sure when you only get four, any test they use is to get yourself in a better position for the Chase," he said. "I would say so."
Larson is 19th in points, but only 12 behind 16th place, which would be good enough to get him in the Chase on points should there be 15 or fewer winners by the time of the cutoff after Richmond in September. Either through a win, or points, he knows making the Chase may depend on putting some recent bad runs behind him. He's finished 28th, 40th and 36th in the past three races, respectively.
"Our chances [of making the Chase] were really good up until three weeks ago," he said. "Then we lost power steering at Sonoma and finished in the high 20s. Kentucky we were pretty fast and blew a right-front tire and then at Daytona we got caught up in a typical Daytona crash and got a 36th-place finish or something like that.
"I think we went from being tied for seventh to [19th] in points over three weeks. It was looking great up until now. It makes you stress out a little bit just because each week it gets closer and closer to the Chase. Now we have fallen to where we have to fight really hard again. It makes it nerve-racking, but we are all pretty close. I think there are six or so guys that are pretty close in points. I have to have a couple of good runs and hopefully get back up there. It would be nice to get a win soon for sure."
Podcast: Marty & McGee
Almirola basking in the glow
Aric Almirola has work to do this weekend at New Hampshire, but you'll forgive him for still wanting to think about last week's victory in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.
"My week was really busy," he said. "It has sunk in. All the guys on the team are fired up. I did all my media obligations mostly on Monday because we did a tire test in Richmond Tuesday and Wednesday, and then yesterday I did a little bit of media and started off this morning at 9 a.m. with more media.
"It has been really busy but I will take that kind of busy any day. To come off a win and take all that comes along with that is really special."
Almirola claimed his first win in the Sprint Cup Series by holding his spot up front when rain finally ended the race, which already had been postponed a day because of the weather. It was the first time the No. 43 of Richard Petty Motorsports -- possibly the most famous car in all of racing -- reached Victory Lane in 15 years. It also came on the 30th anniversary weekend of Petty's 200th and final victory.
One of the coolest things for Almirola was finally getting the checkered flag from the race.
"So obviously I didn't win under green-flag conditions ... usually if you do, you swing back by and grab the flag from the flag man at the end of the race and so I didn't get to do that, and so this morning the flag man, Rodney, brought down to my team guys the checkered flag," he said. "When I got in the race car this morning the checkered flag was sitting inside my race car. That was really cool."
Logano headed to backup car
Joey Logano scored his first career Sprint Cup Series victory in 2009 at New Hampshire, winning a race shortened by rain.
But a victory is a victory (as Aric Almirola knows well from last week), and Logano has gone on to be a contender this year after joining Team Penske two seasons ago. He now has five career victories -- three with Penske -- and is still only 24.
So what does the Middletown, Connecticut, native think about his chances this weekend?
"This track is one of the tougher racetracks for me but it is a special racetrack for me and I consider it my home track not growing up too far from here," he said. "I watched my first Cup race here and won my first Cup race here, so it has always been special for me. We had a good test at Milwaukee a couple weeks ago getting ready for this race and I think we are ready to go.
"We learned a couple things there that are a little different than we have normally done. We are going to get out of the box a little bit and try a few different things to try to wake up this AutoTrader.com Ford Fusion."
The car woke up in the day's first practice, but not in the way he and his team would have liked. His left-rear tire blew out and he crashed, forcing him to a backup car for the rest of the weekend.
"The same exact thing happened in this race last year," he said. "I wasn't even close to saving that. I needed about 500 more yards of straightaway to save that one.
"Unfortunately we will have to get the second [car] out here and try to get it tuned up for the race. It is a bummer. I felt like our car was pretty good. It wasn't great but we were getting closer and I felt like we were a top-5 car. Hopefully the other one is just as good. Team Penske does a great job of making these cars consistent so I am not too worried about it."