NASCAR president: OK with RTA

LOUDON, New Hampshire -- NASCAR president Mike Helton on Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway directly addressed the formation of the Race Team Alliance earlier in the week, and he set a firm but open tone.

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 as the RTA's chairman.

Another goal is to get all the teams in NASCAR involved outside the current members: 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.

Helton said the way NASCAR has been run has worked well for 60 years, and there's no intention to change now.

"We will continue to do business the way we've done business," he said.

So what does the RTA want? Team owner Roger Penske has said going after the "low-hanging fruit" should come first. That would include the teams pooling resources to negotiate better rental-car rates and hotel rates on race weekends, two line items that add up to significant expenses. Other areas of interest would be healthcare and other benefits for employees.

"We're going to focus on things we can do ourselves and doesn't require a lot of outside help," Kauffman told the Associated Press on Monday. "Some of those topics are behind our control. If some of those stakeholders want to have conversations, we'd be happy to do that.

"But it's the things we can do ourselves -- we don't need anyone's approval to work on our travel or optimize our buying or promoting -- that we need to focus on right now."

Helton said it appears the RTA is focused on improving the sport, something NASCAR would wholeheartedly support. He added that with that in mind, it could be a positive.

"I wanted to dispel the perception of animosity [on the part of NASCAR to the formation of the RTA]," he said.

The key questions, and ones Helton did not address Friday, is what if the RTA wants teams to be treated as franchises, something that would add value if an owner wanted to sell since it would mean a permanent place at the NASCAR table? What about a bigger say in rules changes -- especially if they mean added costs to teams? Will they seek a larger share of the television money pouring into the sport?

NASCAR owners are aware of the skyrocketing values for teams in other sports, while they as independent contractors essentially survive from sponsorship to sponsorship and year to year. Among added expenses on the horizon include a NASCAR-mandated engine package set to debut next year, something that could cost teams millions in research, development and testing. And a new TV deal beginning next year is reported to be for $8.2 billion over 10 years.

Teams currently split 25 percent of that TV money, with tracks getting 65 percent and NASCAR -- privately held by the France family -- getting the final 10 percent.

The Frances, with Lesa France Kennedy at the helm, have majority ownership in one of the two publicly-traded track companies, International Speedway Corp. The other, Speedway Motorsports Inc., is owned by North Carolina billionaire O. Bruton Smith.