NASCAR New Hampshire 2014: Jimmie Johnson, Bruton Smith disagree on Race Team Alliance

Joe Robbins

Jimmie Johnson favors the RTA and says drivers could be the next to organize next. Meanwhile Bruton Smith is adamantly against team owners forming a coalition.

Just days after the formation of the Race Team Alliance, opinions varied whether it was a positive or negative. Jimmie Johnson sees it as a "good thing." Track owner Bruton Smith vehemently disagrees with its principles, while NASCAR is business as usual.

The owners of NASCAR's nine largest organizations announced the creation of the RTA on Monday, a coalition designed to help them save on costs. RTA chairman Rob Kauffman said the group is not looking to combat NASCAR, but merely give them a collective voice if the sanctioning body solicits feedback.

"What little bit I know about [the RTA], it seems it will damage the sport. If NASCAR needs us, we're there with NASCAR on the deal."-Bruton Smith

NASCAR president Mike Helton said officials don't see the RTA as antagonists, but will "continue to operate the way we have for the last six decades.'' Helton stressed that every participant in the garage -- drivers, owners, crewmembers -- has a voice and will continue to do so going forward.

"Part of our method of operation over the last six decades is to make decisions and we make those decisions by listening to a lot of individual stakeholders in the garage area,'' Helton said Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. "... We take that input and we make what we think are the best decisions that are good for the whole sport. We'll continue to operate that way.''

When asked if he viewed RTA as a union, Helton responded, "You know everything we know."

Johnson sees the move as a progressive step against the escalating costs of operating a NASCAR team and doesn't anticipate a showdown between the two parties.

"I'm excited for the teams and the opportunity they have to work together and hopefully drive costs down and have a more clear and concise voice in the industry on a variety of aspects, not only to NASCAR, but across the board," Johnson said. "Hopefully we are able to have all of the stakeholders strengthen their positions and make our sport stronger."

Some have thought the RTA signals a seismic shift within NASCAR and could mimic the rift that ravaged Indy car racing in the 1990s. Johnson acknowledged these concerns, but think the benefits of car owners banding together is more positive than negative.

"I just think it is human nature for some to worry," he said. "It doesn't matter what the topic is. I just don't see any downside in the owner's 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."

Among those dissatisfied with the RTA is Smith, chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns and operates eight tracks that host Sprint Cup races including New Hampshire.

In an interview with USA Today Smith was quite outspoken against the RTA.

"What I know about it, of course I don't like it," Smith said. "I don't know anything about it that's good for what we do. I don't see anything that's going to be good for the sport. Nothing.

"What little bit I know about it right now, it seems it will damage the sport. If NASCAR needs us, we're there with NASCAR on the deal. We're there every day, every hour, if they need us."

That Smith is willing to support NASCAR shows how much he is against the RTA. He has a long, contentious history with the France family, frequently battling with them over track dates and the direction of the sport.

But Smith has a lot to lose if the RTA challenges NASCAR on receiving a larger share of the $8.2 billion television contract with FOX and NBC that begins next year. Under the current arrangement track owners get 65 percent of all television revenues, team owners 25 percent and NASCAR 10 percent.

If NASCAR is compelled to better compensate owners it would likely mean less of a slice for Smith and other track operators.

"I'll be standing shoulder to shoulder with NASCAR on this one," Smith told the USA Today. "I know (the RTA isn't) going to like it.

"I like this sport. I've been in it forever. We have a huge investment around $4 billion. I don't sit up at night worrying about it, but I do not like the people to damage the sport."

The ripple effect of the RTA is still unknown. But according to a Johnson a "Pandora's box" may have been opened.

When asked if he thought drivers may now be compelled to form a union or labor organization, the six-time and defending series champion admitted the possibility existed.

"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.

"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."

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