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Contenders To Get A Little Help from Their Friends?

Deb Williams | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, November 19 2011

Carl Edwards and Roush Fenway Racing teammate Matt Kenseth in the Homestead garages. Plotting a team strategy, prehaps? (RacinToday/HHP photo by Gregg Ellman)

Team orders.

Those two words simply describe the way business is conducted in Formula 1. In stock car racing, however, they’ve always carried a great deal of distain.

Yet, with two drivers, from two different racing organizations and two different automotive manufacturers vying for NASCAR’s Sprint Cup championship the question of whether team orders will exist in Sunday’s Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway can’t be avoided.

Tony Stewart, who trails Carl Edwards by three points, has one teammate, Ryan Newman. Edwards has three – Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and David Ragan. Yet, Stewart gets his chassis and engines from Hendrick Motorsports. So one could say he also has Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in his corner.

There also is the manufacturer alignment to consider. Stewart is Chevrolet and Edwards is Ford. Prior to qualifying, Chevrolet had 19 drivers entered in Sunday’s event, while Ford had 14. However, Ford’s NASCAR program operates just as it did in the 1960s when Holman-Moody was its racing powerhouse and supplied all of the Ford teams with their cars. Today, it’s Roush Fenway Racing supplying the Ford teams with their chassis and Roush Yates Engines furnishing the powerplants.

“I think everybody in a Chevrolet would rather see a Chevrolet win just knowing how much it means to the manufacturer,” Kevin Harvick said. “Obviously, Tony is a good friend of mine, but you can’t disrupt

Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick both drive Chevrolets. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Gregg Ellman)

the pureness of the sport and the emotions and all the things that go with that. You don’t want to be that guy that always shows up on the highlight reel that affected the championship.

“If Tony has a question or needs something, I’m not going to put myself in a position to where if we’re going to win the race we’re going to let somebody win the race for sure. So you go about cutting him some slack on restarts, little things like that, and on pit road, whatever the case may be.”

Pit road activities can be just as critical as what occurs on the track. Those contending for the title would like to have a pit box with an opening in front so as not to be blocked in during a stop. Yet, if that’s not possible, then they would like to be surrounded by “friendly teams”; organizations that would cooperate, such as pitting on a different lap.

“Alliances are always important whether it’s a teammate or a relationship you have with another team, or it could be your buddy,” four-time NASCAR Cup champion Jeff Gordon said. “You might have a good friend out there that might give you the spot because it’s going to win you the championship. It doesn’t have to be team orders. It just could be relationships. Those relationships are very broad. I think that’s always been the case. It’s not just something that’s come up recently.”

Relationships have existed throughout the sport’s history, even if it was a factory-backed team assisting an independent with equipment. When Junior Johnson’s operation was winning championships in the 1970s and Richard Childress was a driver/owner, the Winston-Salem, N.C., native was Johnson’s “farm team”.  Johnson helped Childress by providing his team with equipment he no longer planned to use. In turn, if Johnson wanted to experiment with something, Childress essentially was his R&D team. Also, in previous years in a two-car operation it often was made quite clear as to which driver was No. 1. Today, however, the relationships have changed.

“We have different alliances these days because of the way the engines are being built and rented out to other teams and chassis and engineering, so that might cross a lot more teams than it used to,” Gordon explained. “I would think that you hope those don’t come into affect here on Sunday, but they certainly could.”

– Deb Williams can be reached at dwilliams@racintoday.com

Deb Williams | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, November 19 2011
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