Welcome to this week’s edition of What’s the Call? Each week, two of your favorite Frontstretch writers will duke it out in a debate concerning one of NASCAR’s big controversies. Don’t let us be the only ones to speak our minds, though… be sure to read both sides and let us know what you think about the situation in the comment section below!
This Week’s Question: Jeff Gordon said that Brian Vickers wasn’t really his teammate anymore since he is moving on to Red Bull Racing next year. Should Vickers feel an obligation to help Gordon win a championship for Hendrick Motorsports this year when he won’t be there after the end of the season?
Vickers is NOT Obligated To Help Anyone
Gordon may have ruffled a few feathers between teammate Vickers and his fans two weeks ago when he accused Vickers of racing him too hard at New Hampshire International Speedway. In a statement after the race, Gordon said, “He’s my teammate, but he’s not my teammate because he’s moving on next year. I raced him harder than he wanted me to race him earlier in the race. I could give all the reasons and excuses, but it doesn’t do any good. There in the closing laps, that [position] could have been crucial. It did cost us time. Right now, he’s in a tough position. He’s moving on to a new team. He hasn’t been able to win races like other guys at Hendrick Motorsports. He wants it bad, and he’s driving hard, and I think it was just a little lapse in judgement.”
Gordon’s statement certainly brings up an interesting question. Is Vickers, who is still a HMS driver, obligated to help his teammate in the Chase for the Nextel Cup? After all, Vickers is the only Hendrick driver who is not in the top 10, the only one in a position to help his teammates gain valuable points. Yeah, well… so what? Vickers isn’t there to lay over for Gordon – he’s there to race. He’s obligated as Gordon’s teammate not to wreck him if he can help it – nothing more.
Sure, Vickers (or any teammate of a Chase driver who did not qualify their own team) could conceivably help his teammates in certain situations, such as holding up other Chasers as long as possible if he’s a lap down. That’s one thing – but giving up position for one of those teammates is another matter altogether. Drivers are paid to race for wins – they’ve worked for years to do just that. Asking a teammate to finish anywhere but where he and his car are capable of finishing is simply a slap in the face.
Team orders of this type may be acceptable in Formula 1, but in NASCAR they are not and should not be part of the game. If Gordon doesn’t have the car to pass Vickers and loses the championship by that exact number of points, that’s not Vickers’ fault. It’s Gordon’s – for not having a car good enough to pass him.
Remember, Gordon doesn’t like his teammates to race him like everybody else. He accused Jimmie Johnson (who drives a car Gordon co-owns) of racing him too hard for position at Michigan earlier this year. Neither Johnson nor Vickers rubbed fenders with Gordon – just raced hard for position. In both cases, those post-race quotes were simply Gordon’s frustration showing through.
Teammates do have an obligation to help each other under certain circumstances. Letting a teammate lead a lap for the bonus points is commonplace, and so is holding up a competitor from another team. But it should never become common or accepted to give a teammate a position when both have competitive cars simply for points. With all the accusations of cheating in the sport, wouldn’t that be just as wrong? Drivers in the Chase are not 3-year-olds who the adults let win a game of Candyland – and they shouldn’t act like it. – Amy Henderson
A Teammate is a Teammate Until the Team is Not a Team
According to Gordon, Vickers is no longer his teammate because he is moving on to Red Bull Racing next year. Apparently, Gordon felt that was reinforced by the fact that Vickers actually raced him for position during the New Hampshire race last weekend. Gordon has a point; while blatant team racing goes against every fabric of the sport of NASCAR racing, teammates still have to work for the common good of all involved whenever the opportunity presents itself.
Now, simply pulling over and letting your teammate gain positions at the end of a race is unacceptable in racing, whether it is F1 or at your local short track. However, there are plenty of things teammates can do to ensure the organization as a whole succeeds.
Sharing information is first on the list. Different drivers have different preferences, so simply sticking another driver’s setup under someone’s car is probably not going to work. However, there are tendencies and tricks that can translate between teams. It certainly helps if the drivers like similar cars – that is the reason Roush ran so well last year. All five drivers liked similar car setups, so once the organization hit on something, it worked for everyone. Any information that can be shared with teammates is better for the whole organization because it results in success for all teams involved. Just take a look at Richard Childress Racing this year – the teams are all working together and it has been the success story of the year in NASCAR.
Secondly, helping teammates out on the track can help advance the good of the general cause. Early in a race, during the race to the Chase, if one teammate is leading and another is running second, it is acceptable to allow the teammate to lead a lap to get five bonus points. Once the Chase arrives, any drivers in the Chase should race for all they are worth the entire time. However, if a teammate not in the Chase is leading, it is certainly OK to let the Chaser lead a lap. Once the bonus points have been secured, however, the non-Chaser should retake the lead and then run as they were beforehand. If it is late in the race (last 25 laps or so) it is every man for themselves. It is too risky that late in the race to be playing around with the lead of the race. Additionally, a teammate can draft with another teammate to help them move forward or conserve gas. That is just taking advantage of one of the benefits of having teammates. The big organizations spend a lot of money to field all of their teams, so it shouldn’t be held against them if they work together.
The bottom line is, this is still racing. At the end of a race, it is every driver’s responsibility to race as hard as they can to put in the best showing possible for their own team and sponsors. But if circumstances dictate that a driver is out of contention for a win and they can help a teammate, then more power to them. Vickers had that opportunity to help, and instead proved a hindrance to Gordon at New Hampshire. How much it cost Gordon, we won’t know until Homestead – but if Vickers had raced him the way he should have as his teammate, there would have been no problem. – Mike Neff