ONE: THE RACE TEAM ALLIANCE
Across the course of a regular NASCAR seasons, there are approximately a billion stories seemingly every day. Some are humdrum, mundane; some are frivolous; some very worthy of consideration.
And then some you don’t really know just how big they are until way after the fact — and I can’t help but feel that yesterday’s announcement of a Race Team Alliance (RTA) might just be in that category.
The specifics are these: a group of nine multi-car teams operating at the Sprint Cup level have formed a “collaborative business association” with the purpose being 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 nine teams involved 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. The plan, per the RTA release, is to open up membership to all full-time Cup teams in the “very near future.”
Obviously it is early days for the RTA but already, as you might expect, NASCAR have responded via official channels with Brett Jewkes, NASCAR’s chief communications officer, noting in a statement: “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.”
Now this reads somewhat tersely to me: especially the “very few specifics” and “apparently still in development” portions of the release.
The second half of the official NASCAR statement is more conciliatory in tone. “NASCAR’s mission, as it has always been, is to create a fair playing field where anyone can come and compete,” it reads. “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.”
Chairing the RTA is Rob Kauffman, a co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing, who notes: ““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. This simply formalizes what was an informal group. The key word is ‘Collaboration.’”
Now this is interesting. If the teams have been doing this for years why then is there a need to solidify and codify this loose alliance? It could be just a way to organize the discussion in a more formalized setting or it could be that the teams don’t feel NASCAR provides enough support? Either way — the truth is out there somewhere — watching the development and approach of the RTA should be fascinating.
TWO: THE IMPORTANCE OF POINTS
All year long we’ve heard about “win and you’re in.” Points, it seemed, had taken something of a back seat in the grand scheme of things as drivers talked about going for it rather than settling for a, for example, solid top-5 points day.
But now as we edge closer to the big dance that is the Chase, points are suddenly at a premium. With eight races to go and 11 drivers in possession of an all-important victory, five places are still very much up for grabs. Austin Dillon, for example, vaulted himself from 18th to 13th in the overall standings but more importantly into the fifth and final transfer spot. Greg Biffle, meanwhile, fell out of the Chase berths after a wreck and a 29th-place finish. Snapping at the rookie’s driving boots are the aforementioned Biffle, Brian Vickers, Kyle Larson and Kasey Kahne, who are separated by a scant 12 points.
So in short, it’s razor thin tight in the race for Chase places. And with a hitherto winless for his Cup career driver like Aric Almirola (21st in the standings) taking the checkered flag at Daytona and a Chase place it’s even more so. With this in mind, expect to see winless drivers take even more gambles in the remainder of the race to the Chase but at the same time keep an eye on the points.
THREE: TNT’S FINAL RACE
Just one more race remains for TNT as they close out their time as a Cup broadcaster with a 301-lap, 318.46-mile race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (more on which is below). I’ve made no secret of the fact that I very much enjoy TNT’s approach to a race, which has always felt more organic and less forced. Its summer stretch betwixt the broadcasting megaliths of FOX and ESPN is, though, coming to an end after 32 consecutive years of televising at the top echelon, with NBC Sports and FOX splitting its six-race slate in 2015 and beyond.
TNT’s penultimate race was not, however, without controversy. The rain-delayed race that ran on Sunday and not Saturday night as scheduled meant TNT’s planned airing of the third installment of the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy was skipped. This prompted, as you might expect, much spleen venting and inordinate gnashing of teeth on Twitter from fans of the JRR Tolkien-penned novels.
FOUR: NEXT UP — LOUDON
Next is the first of two trips to New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The 1.058-mile flat track, known colloquially as the Magic Mile, will be hosting Sprint Cup race No. 19, a stretch that goes back to 1993: the inaugural race at Loudon was won by NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace with Mark Martin finishing second. Since then, only four drivers have competed in every race: Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte and Joe Nemechek, and that number will become three after Sunday as Labonte is not entered this weekend.
Burton, running a partial schedule this season before taking up broadcasting duties with NBC Sports in 2015, will feature in just his second race of 2014 at a track where he has most overall victories (four in total). Nemechek, meanwhile, made his first ever Cup start in the inaugural race.
This time last year, Brian Vickers won a morale-boosting victory in a part-time ride. The Sheriff could certainly do with a repeat victory this year (and the resultant Chase place).
FIVE: MONTOYA WINS 14 YEARS LATER
It was a weekend of contrasts for Juan Pablo Montoya, with his native Colombia exiting the World Cup in heartbreaking fashion on Saturday to host nation Brazil. Sunday was a much better day as Montoya recorded his first Verizon IndyCar Series victory of 2014 at Pocono Raceway.
The last time Montoya competed in the series, he won the 2000 Indy 500, so a whopping 14 years separated his wins. In his first seven starts he recorded just a pair of top 10s but in the last three races prior to taking the checkered flag, Montoya had finished third, second and seventh – a sure sign of forward momentum.
Montoya now sits in fourth place behind co-leaders and teammates Helio Castroneves and Will Power with Simon Pagenaud in third 44 markers in arrears. But with seven races still to run, Montoya feels like he has a say noting after the race: “”I think people know I’m coming.”
They do indeed, Juan. They do indeed.