HAMPTON, Ga. - Every time the issue of teamwork bubbles to the top in this NASCAR kettle of fish, I’m reminded of something Robert Yates once said.
Yates, the longtime owner of Ford teams, was not among the first to embrace the trend toward multicar teams.
The way he had it figured, it was hard to keep two or more teams happy as long as there’s only one parking spot in Victory Lane.
It’s a heck of a point. To succeed in NASCAR’s top series, you have to beat everybody. That includes those who might work for the same boss or even might have their cars built at the same building as yours.
Twenty years ago, what few people there were who could make the multicar concept work did it most often by pitting their teams against one another. Several teams that won championships during the ’80s did that in large part because they worked so hard trying to beat their “teammate” they got good enough to beat everyone else, too.
That model has changed. These days, one-car teams line the road to financial ruin in stock-car racing.
When NASCAR placed a four-team limit on car owners a couple of years ago, Yates also was the first to point out to me that it was establishing four cars as the template for what a successful team needed to work toward becoming.
Expansion might be dictated by economics, but that doesn’t make it easier to overcome the challenges it presents.
Witness last week’s public upheaval within Roush Fenway Racing, spurred by Carl Edwards’ Martinsville, Va., postrace run-in with teammate Matt Kenseth.
Greg Biffle, who will start from the pole in today’s Pep Boys Auto 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, joined fellow Roush driver Jamie McMurray in tossing Edwards under the bus for most of the week. Finally, though, Biffle’s beginning to strike a more conciliatory tone.
“We’ve thrown a lot of stones over the last week,” he said. “But, really, the moral of the story is that Carl was a little bit out of line and I think we all know that and he’s admitted that.
“We just need to mend that relationship between him and Matt, and they need to race each other better on the race track, and that’s what this boils down to.”
The Roush in-fighting is being starkly juxtaposed to the public showing of respect and admiration between Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports teammates who lead the title race.
Lest we forget, however, just a few weeks ago Casey Mears was so upset after being asked to give Kyle Busch a finishing position at Dover, Del., that it led to a series of Hendrick team meetings. Earlier, Busch feared his teammates might exclude him the way Brian Vickers was shunned last year after Vickers announced he’d be moving to another team.
Conflict happens. Racers compete, and by their nature they put their self-interest first. There is room for only one car in Victory Lane, and any driver who’s good enough to even think about winning would, every time, choose gaining 10 spots over making 10 friends on the track.
Without question, Roush Fenway Racing should have had a meeting of its drivers at 8 a.m. Monday and said, “OK, we’re done talking about this. Carl will say he’s sorry for what he did after the race at Martinsville and that’s the end of it, at least for public consumption.” And this whole thing would have blown right over.
Of course, I am glad that’s not what happened. It was a fascinating week at a time of the year when, aside from the Chase, it’s hard to find a lot of new meat to chew on.
We’ll leave it, for now at least, with one last observation.
In the days since his blow-up, some people have publicly questioned how genuine Edwards’ “Mr. Nice Guy” image really was. Apparently, these people have for some time been saying the same things in private.
But it’s Edwards who is two-faced?