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Race Team Alliance says other NASCAR teams may join; 9-team group focused on promoting sport

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LOUDON, N.H. - The Race Team Alliance is not only open for business, the ownership clique is ready for new members.

RTA chairman Rob Kauffman, co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing, said teams outside of the inaugural nine that formed together have expressed interest in joining and want to collaborate on initiatives and issues facing NASCAR.

Kauffman said teams that have attempted to qualify in 95 per cent of the 72 Sprint Cup races over the last two years would be eligible to join the RTA.

That means owners like Harry Scott, Tommy Baldwin and Tad Geschickter could join heavyweights like Roger Penske, Rick Hendrick and Jack Roush.

"I found it a little funny somebody said, 'We weren't included day one,'" Kauffman said Saturday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. "I guess you start something and people are bummed out they're not in it, that's probably a sign of popularity. I thought that was a little funny.

"I think the second sentence of the press release said one of our top priorities is to reach out to the other teams," he added. "Well, two days is kind of short, even for someone from New York."

The RTA currently includes Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Richard Petty Motor Sports, Roush Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske.

"I was surprised how much consensus there was, how quickly," Kauffman said. "Like a lot of other sports, even though all the teams compete on the weekend, their businesses are very, very similar, their issues are very, very similar, the way they think about stuff, their risks, their revenues, their expenses. There's a lot of common interest."

He said the RTA is non-profit, and there are bylaws and dues. It has retained international law firm Jones Day as counsel. Board meetings? Well, the owners are easy to find, each Sunday at the track before the Sprint Cup race.

The owners started talking in early June and the RTA was formally introduced on Monday. Kauffman said the owners did give NASCAR officials an early heads up a group was on the horizon.

"It is new, we haven't done much, we're just being transparent about what we're trying to do," he said.

He declined to say what NASCAR Chairman Brian France and President Mike Helton said in their first conversations about the RTA. Helton said on Friday there is no animosity from the governing body toward the group. He downplayed the immediate significance of the new faction, saying NASCAR will "continue to do business the way we've done business."

But the lag time from Monday's announcement to NASCAR's first comment on Friday led to speculation the stock series was unhappy with the alliance.

"I think if the NASCAR folks said what they said yesterday on Monday, there would have been a lot less hoo-ha," Kauffman said. "But that's their prerogative and that's fine."

The goals of the RTA include lowering costs for NASCAR teams and creating one voice on issues facing the teams. Kauffman said all the combined Cup teams spend $50 million to $100 million annually on travel costs.

The formation of the RTA comes as NASCAR enters next season with a new $8.2 billion television package. Teams currently get a portion of the money from the TV package, but Kauffman said renegotiating the teams' cut was not on the current agenda.

"That's a big, obvious issue that's out there that the teams really have no influence or control over," he said. "We're going to focus on stuff we can do. If someone wants to discuss any big picture issues, we're happy to discuss and engage in a constructive way. But unless and until that happens, it's really not worth spending a lot of time thinking about."

Six-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson voiced his support of the RTA this weekend. He said he was excited the owners unified to provide "a clear, concise voice" for the industry.

Track owner Bruton Smith lashed out at the RTA, saying, "I don't see anything that's going to be good for the sport." He also took a playful jab at Kauffman, saying he didn't know anything about Kauffman, who invested in 2007.

Kauffman said he understood why some like Smith would be cautious and want to protect his turf — in this case, billions of dollars spent over several decades on track ownership.

"I respect the issues those guys have. But as far as the Race Team Alliance is concerned, we want to work collaboratively with the tracks," Kauffman said.

Kauffman repeatedly pushed the idea of a collaborative spirit, working with leaders in all areas of the sport to find ways to slash costs, bolster promotion, present NASCAR with one voice when it comes to team ideas on testing, and make a weekend at the track more fan friendly.

The RTA isn't immediately interested in helping recruit new owners to NASCAR.

Almost any topic in NASCAR is open for discussion, especially if it helps grow television ratings and event attendance.

"We want this to be more popular," Kauffman said. "We want more people in the stands, more people to watch racing.

"That's what it's all about," he said.

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