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Podcast: Behind the scenes of the Race Team Alliance and its negotiations with NASCAR

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Inside an airplane hangar that’s a shrine to the P51 Mustang fighter pilots who helped win World War II, NASCAR’s most powerful team owners gathered to plot seismic events.

Rick Hendrick, Roger Penske, Richard Childress and Jack Roush met at a conference table in Roush’s personal hangar at the Concord, N.C., airport more than two years ago, identifying the stiffest economic headwinds facing their Sprint Cup organizations.

That was the genesis of the Race Team Alliance, an initially controversial consortium that brokered the landmark charter deal with NASCAR this season, recalibrating the team business model with more dependable and predictable revenue streams.

“It was fascinating,” Roush Fenway Racing president Steve Newmark, who attended the meeting, said in the latest NASCAR on NBC podcast. “As the owners were discussing the challenges they had on sponsorship and some things they saw coming down the pike, they all had similar views of what was going on. These were very successful businessmen both in racing and outside of it.”

In the podcast, Newmark details the behind-the-scenes machinations and negotiations that led to the formation of the RTA and team charters.

The meeting in Roush’s hangar was preceded by a February team owner meeting called by NASCAR at its headquarters in Daytona Beach, Fla., during Speedweeks 2014. Childress then lobbied his peers to gather independently.

“It evolved from there that the owners got together,” Newmark said. “We tried to figure out how to achieve some more synergies in the sport.

“Part of the initial purpose was to talk about we’re all spending ridiculous amounts of money on hotels, rental cars. Is there a way we can leverage our purchasing power on some of these items to do a better job?

“That was one of the primary discussion topics. It wasn’t these meetings were intended to discuss ‘How can we overthrow NASCAR?’ That was some of the suspicions, and I understand that, but that wasn’t the origin or purpose.”

By June, the RTA (chaired by Rob Kauffman) was formed and announced on July 7, 2014, in the form of a news release.

Newmark said it was a much more complex process than it seemed.

“That was more work than anyone envisioned,” he said. “Even the simple act of selecting a name. I’ve still got an email with 50 names on it with everyone trying to create an acronym that made sense. Ultimately we settled on Race Team Alliance. We had to have attorneys guide us because we didn’t want to trip up on antitrust issues. We didn’t want to be anticompetitive, and there were lots of issues that we were told, ‘Hey, the teams together cannot talk about that.’ ”

Though the RTA had made NASCAR aware of its existence, it was met by a chilly reception from the sanctioning body, which initially indicated there would be no plans to recognize the group.

“We’d talked to NASCAR in advance, made sure they were aware, tried to alleviate concerns,” Newmark said. “But it was natural because it was such a sea change from how we operated in the past.

“I do think there was initial trepidation for certain folks in NASCAR. To be blunt, probably the concern was because you saw this whispered in the press. If I were in NASCAR, that would have been a legitimate concern. Is this what they are aiming to do? We had to have a learning process and build trust. There was a constant dialogue. After initial concern and pushback, it transformed very quickly.”

Within a year, the framework had been built for the charter system that would assign value to teams while allocating revenues through a new structure based partly on historical performance.

But while the numbers in the deal were worked out relatively easily, governance – or how much influence teams would have on the direction of NASCAR competition and rulemaking – was a sticking point that caused negotiations to last well into the offseason.

“One of the more contentious days, where I wondered if we’d be able to have a meeting of the minds, was Christmas Eve,” said Newmark, who was heavily involved with Kauffman in negotiations. “Rob and I, with some lawyers and some other team presidents, we were sending issues lists on Christmas (to NASCAR). We were able to bridge some of the gaps that came up then. That was a fairly constant process. It was fun doing it. It was grueling.”

Newmark recalled an all-night session at The Ballantyne Lodge in which talks with NASCAR went until 3 a.m. and resumed at 6 a.m. He took a nap at the hotel rather than make the 3-mile drive to his Charlotte home.

“Ask my kids, they’d get used to my phone lighting up with Rob Kauffman on it,” Newmark said. “It was very different than a lot of negotiations I was involved in with walkout moments. This had a more collaborative spirit. That doesn’t mean we didn’t have a difference of opinions, and we didn’t have some tough moments. But there really was an openness that I think was unprecedented in the sport.”

Other topics discussed by Newmark on the podcast:

–How the merger between Roush Racing and Fenway Sports Group transpired and how the entities still are working together;

–The evolution of team owner Jack Roush’s role from demanding leader to mentor;

–How NASCAR might be positioned to hook Millennials in the face of possibly declining car culture;

You can listen to the podcast by clicking below or download and subscribe to it on iTunes by clicking here.

The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone. It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.

NASCAR America: Under the radar playoff drivers, Talladega’s playoff placement

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SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s Pete Pistone dropped by NASCAR America for his weekly appearance to discuss the Cup playoffs so far.

Pistone was asked who he thought is the most under the radar driver through five races in the playoffs. He chose Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin.

“We’ve heard from Denny Hamlin on some other things, some off-the-track stuff,” Pistone said. “He’s been in the headlines. But in terms of how he’s running and where’s he’s running, I think we’ve sort of been missing him a little bit.”

Hamlin finished sixth at Talladega for his third top 10 of the playoffs. His worst result so far is 35th (DNF) at Dover for an axle problem.

Kyle Petty asked Pistone who he would rather see eliminated from the playoffs if he were Martin Truex Jr: Jimmie Johnson or Kyle Busch.

“I think I want to see Jimmie Johnson eliminated and the only reason I would say that Kyle is because Jimmie’s been there before, (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) has been there before. We’ve written off Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson even this late in the playoffs before. It’s almost Halloween. They’re sort of like Michael Myers from Halloween, the movie. If you let them up and be alive again they’re going to come and get you with a knife.”

Watch the above video for more.

Kasey Kahne, Matt DiBenedetto marking Cup start milestones at Kansas

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Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway will mark career milestones for Kasey Kahne and Matt DiBenedetto.

Kahne, who is in the final five races of his tenure driving the No. 5 for Hendrick Motorsports, will make his 500th Cup Series start.

DiBenedetto, driver of Go Fas Racing’s No. 32 Ford, will reach the century mark with his 100th Cup start.

The two join the ranks of drivers who have celebrated similar milestones this season.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. marked his 600th start at Auto Club Speedway. Kevin Harvick made his 600th start in the regular-season finale at Richmond Raceway and Kurt Busch made his in the Bristol night race.

Brad Keselowski won Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway in his 300th Cup start.

Kahne, 37,  made his first Cup start in the 2004 Daytona 500 for Evernham Motorsports. The 24-year-old driver won the Rookie of the Year that season, making him the youngest winner of the award at the time since Jeff Gordon earned it at the age of 22 in 1993.

Since then he has earned 18 wins, 92 top fives, 175 top 10s and 27 poles. He has yet to miss a race in his 14-year career in the Cup Series.

DiBenedetto, 26, made his first Cup start on March 15, 2015 in the CampingWorld.com 500 at Phoenix Raceway. The start, in the No. 83 Toyota for BK Racing, came after he failed to qualify for the previous two races at Atlanta and Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

In the two years since, DiBenedetto has earned three top 10s, including two this year in the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400.

His career-best finish is sixth in the April 2016 race at Bristol.

Through 31 races this year, DiBenedetto has an average finish of 26.8, an improvement over his totals in 2015 (32nd) and 2016 (30th).

In five Kansas starts, DiBenedetto’s best result is 24th in the fall 2016 race. His average finish is 28.2.

“I really enjoy racing at Kansas Speedway,” DiBenedetto said in a press release. “Our mile-and-a-half program has been very strong this year and (Crew chief) Gene (Nead) has been giving me fast race cars to compete with. We qualified in the second-round here at Kansas earlier in the season, so that gives us a lot of hope.

“I like the racing at Kansas because you can move around a lot groove-wise and find a line that works with the balance of your race car. I’m usually one of the first people to move up into the high-groove and that seems to help find us some speed. If we can get a balance on the race car like we had in the spring, I know we’ll be fast and competitive.”

NASCAR America: Scan All from the Alabama 500 at Talladega

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“Ol’ Dega is giving me one last thrill.”

That’s the remark Dale Earnhardt Jr. made after he narrowly avoided being collected in the second of three wrecks in the final 16 laps of Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway, his last start at the track.

It’s one of many highlights in the latest edition of “Scan All,” which documents the Alabama 500 at the restrictor-plate track.

In the above video, Brad Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe relive the race, which ended with Keselowski’s sixth win at the track.

Here are more highlights from “Scan All.”

  • Listen to the communication of the No. 48 team as confusion breaks out over whether they can work on Jimmie Johnson‘s car during a red flag.
  • “It is a restrictor-plate race, so I’m not going to promise you anything.” – Brendan Gaughan after remarking he hoped his team wouldn’t have to make too many body repairs. He would be eliminated in a crash with 10 laps to go.
  • “Those stands are packed. They should get a free Dale Jr. autograph.” – Clint Bowyer on the large crowd that took in Earnhardt’s final Cup start at Talladega.
  • “Holy (expletive). What an idiot. That was the absolute stupidest (expletive) thing he’s ever done.” Kyle Busch after a crash involving Jame McMurray, Erik Jones and Jeffrey Earnhardt. The crash began when McMurray slowed down enter pit road and Jones ran into him.
  • Listen as Keselowski and his team struggle to communicate with each other do to a faulty radio system.
  • “How in the (expletive) did we wind up in the (expletive) back? (Expletive) stupid.” – Part of a tirade by Bowyer following a Lap 157 crash that collected him. Bowyer pulled his car into his pit box, exited it, had a brief exchange with his crew chief and walked back to the garage.

Watch the above video for more.

Race distance for Charlotte Motor Speedway road course still TBD

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CONCORD, N.C. — It still might be known as the Bank of America 500, but 500 kilometers might not be the distance of the first road-course race in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.

Charlotte Motor Speedway announced Wednesday in the media center during a break in tire testing that next year’s Round of 16 cutoff race would be 500 kilometers or about 130 laps on the 2.42-mile layout. Track officials said it would be the longest road course race on the circuit (roughly 90 miles longer than the events at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International).

That prompted a raft of buzz on social media about a 500-kilometer race that likely would be pushing at least four hours with two stage breaks and a few cautions (lap times were in the 90-second range during the test).

But in a statement early Wednesday evening, NASCAR wouldn’t confirm 500 kilometers as the distance of the Sept. 30 race.

Here’s the statement:

This week’s test provided valuable data that will be part of the equation in determining the distance for next fall’s race. We will continue working closely with our partners to develop the best event for fans and competitors alike.

Asked about NASCAR’s statement, Charlotte Motor Speedway spokesman Scott Cooper said the track still was planning for a 500-kilometer race.

“We’re learning a tremendous amount about the Roval from this week’s test,” Cooper said in an email to NBCSports.com. “Ultimately, we want the most challenging road course race for the drivers and the very best show for the fans, and we’ll continue to work hard to get there.”

A release from the track near the conclusion of the two-day tire test late Wednesday afternoon referred to next season’s race as the Bank of America 500 but didn’t specify the race’s distance.