Let’s just pretend for a moment that I am a car owner with a bottomless pocket. I have this dream of one day taking home a NASCAR Sprint Cup championship trophy in December. What do I do?
I hire four incredibly talented drivers and put them behind the wheels of my perfectly engineered machines. I work with the credo that I will win races. I will collect top-five finishes. I have built a team.
Next, comes Sunday afternoon. All four of my cars start the race and continue to climb their way, in individual manners, toward the front. One has to adjust tire pressure, another takes out a little bit of wedge. A swarm of crew members work tirelessly to improve their race day performances. It is an orchestration of cooperation.
However, out of all the workers employed at the giant headquarters located back home comprised of engine, chassis, graphics, marketing, accounting and management departments, only four highly-paid individuals are ultimately responsible for obtaining that single elusive piece of hardware. And they each want it with the desire of the obsessed.
Do I expect those drivers to cooperate on the field of battle in order that one of them may win?
No, I don’t.
What has been puzzling me of late is this odd mindset among drivers that their teammates should maintain those expectations. Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson or Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin. Both the Hendrick and Gibbs stables have been embroiled in useless bickering over who crowded out whom this season.
The latest example of this dichotomy of team vs. individual achievement was seen in the final lap of the Gillette Fusion ProGlide 500. Kasey Kahne in his No. 9, with a load of speed coming out of turn 1, was faced with running over Sam Hornish Jr. or diving to the left and passing AJ Allmendinger’s No. 43.
While Kahne was intent on improving his finishing position with a pair of fresh tires, Allmendinger was focused on maintaining his potential top-10 berth. ‘Dinger blocked low, forcing Kahne into the grass… and the Big One was on. The Bud-mobile slid back across the track. Mark Martin and Greg Biffle nailed Kahne’s right-side door and launched the No. 9 into the air, where it visited the shrubs and top of the wall before settling back down in the middle of the track so that Gordon’s No. 24 had no choice but to slam into the No. 9’s tail.
Now, whose fault was this?
Should Allmendinger have been more aware of his teammate’s run off the corner and been prepared to give up spots in the name of comraderie? Should Kahne have expected that the No. 43 would just let him by? Perhaps, Hornish might have pulled over and let the No. 9 with its head of steam plow on through, giving up the No. 77’s promising finish.
No. No. No!
These ridiculous questions return time and time again. And the answer should always be no.
These massive moneyed stables are designed and paid for by one person or entity. The purpose of building such a monstrous team is not to enable one of the many cars to win over another with the assistance of fellow competitors; it is to increase the odds for the name on the racing complex to add to the trophy room. That is accomplished through the division of the team mindset at the track.
Where Richard Petty Motorsports spends Monday through Saturday comparing notes and improving the mechanical advantage of all their machines over the rest of the field, come Sunday, it is only the individual achievement that will be of note. There will be but one name splashed over the headlines after the checkers fall. The mythical multi-car team is banished from thought.
If anything happened to Kasey Kahne, it was a case of fellow Sprint Cup competitors racing him hard. Unfortunate things resulted. There was no loss of respect or a failure to display the proper manners.
It was a racing deal.
So let’s stop falling for the constant whining by the competitors when a teammate does a bad thing and stop looking for misplaced apologies. Forty-three unique teams qualify for the race. We should expect that all the entrants will fight tooth and nail for every inch of pavement.
Saying, “Excuse me, may I cut in line?” and “Of course, I can see you’re in hurry.” That should be reserved for visiting your grocery store on a lazy summer afternoon.
About the author
The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.
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