For those who cling to the hope that racing remain a pure form of competition, it’s been disheartening to see the sport of NASCAR racing evolve to a point where three- and four-car teams with alliances with other multi-car operations have become the norm.
Drivers talk about sharing data that once was proprietary information, and drivers occasionally pull over during races to allow teammates to pick up five bonus points for leading races, a particularly disgusting maneuver to the purists.
But lately, and somewhat ironically, the multi-car teams have been providing some of the emotion and rivalry that has been missing in recent seasons.
Last week at Las Vegas, Gordon led 219 laps only to have Johnson beat him at the end in large part because Johnson and his crew took four tires on the final pit stop to Gordon’s two. The fresh rubber proved to be the difference.
A few days later, during an appearance in Phoenix, Gordon indicated to RacinToday contributing writer Mark Armijo that losing to his teammate is getting old.
“I really want to win a fifth championship, and I’d like to do it before Jimmie Johnson,” Gordon said.
Johnson, speaking on a teleconference a day later, acknowledged that he knows Gordon badly wants to beat him on the race track.
“The success on track, as a competitor, I know he doesn’t like, and it’s not like it’s put some burden on our friendship and now we’re not friends, but competition is a tough thing to deal with emotionally, and people typically find ways to motivate themselves by being angry in competition,” Johnson said. “If they find a way to get mad at someone then it inspires them and pushes them hard to do their jobs. I do the same thing for other guys, whoever is on top and focusing on them. I understand the dynamic.”
It seems that in today’s NASCAR, competition among teammates is stronger than among outsiders and not just under the Hendrick roof. Also last week at Las Vegas, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing teammates Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray crashed, and Montoya had harsh words for McMurray afterward.
“Jamie plain and simple just wrecked us,” Montoya said. “Every time I am around him, he wants to run the (expletive) out of me.”
McMurray shrugged off the criticism, saying he believed his teammate was venting frustration over being wrecked.
Ryan Newman, who had his share of troubles with Rusty Wallace when the two were teammates at Penske Racing, said the very nature of multi-car operations lends itself to trouble between team drivers.
“I think it has the biggest potential for conflict of all things we do in NASCAR,” Newman said. “Any teammate is a competitor. That sense of pressure, especially with the extra hype now with the Chase and everything else, makes it a higher level of potential for that conflict on the race track….
“You got the same equipment. You got the same a lot of things. The biggest difference is your results. That creates a little internal rivalry at times.”
That kind of talk has the potential of stirring up far more interest in NASCAR than one crash after another on the track.
Have at it boys.
Rick Minter is a veteran, award-winning sports journalist who joined The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1991 covering motorsports as well as serving as a bureau chief. From 2000-2008 Minter focused on racing exclusively, traveling the NASCAR circuit as the paper’s motorsports writer. Rick can be reached at email@example.com