Teammates ready to betray each other at 'Dega

It sounds reasonable. Having more teammates could lead to more success at restrictor-plate tracks, where a drafting partner can be the difference in taking the lead and being shuffled to the back of the pack.

It doesn't necessarily work that way, though.

It makes sense that one could count on a teammate to push him to the front and keep him there. Except in racing, teammates are also trying for wins. Teammates are also chasing the championship and understand the value of those few extra points each position gives week to week. Teammates are certainly there if possible. Obviously they want to help out one another as much as possible.

But in NASCAR racing - a sport where a teammate is truly the guys on one's crew, not the driver competing in a car that shares the same ownership - there are limits to this aid. Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon questioned the way each raced the other following last weekend's race. Imagine what will happen among teammates this weekend.

Nowhere is the teammate philosophy - or often lack thereof - more apparent than when racing at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. After all, who can forget 2006 at Talladega? At the white flag, Dale Earnhardt Jr. led then-Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Brian Vickers. But Vickers wanted to go. When he later tried to pull low, he caught Johnson's bumper and spun him into Earnhardt Jr., taking out the pair as he cruised to the unpopular win.

It can easily happen that way.

While a driver would obviously prefer to push a teammate across the finish line first instead of someone else, he sometimes has to make the call on whether to go for that win himself. Competitors often find themselves working well together for the majority of the race, then battling for the win in the closing laps. The driver who was content to push one to the front for the previous laps suddenly swings to the outside and grabs the front of a streaming pack of cars. He buzzes past, teammates briefly side-by-side at the front, to take the lead himself.

While some might question the apparent ruthlessness of this maneuver, drivers recognize it as just a piece of competition.

When it comes to restrictor-plate racing, hanging out one's friends is simply the nature of the beast.

Whether drivers like it or not, something that often depends on his status as the beneficiary or victim of such a move, it's merely the style of racing these tracks breed.

That doesn't mean it's easy, though, to move past a teammate one has been working with throughout the race. Or even that everyone will do it. At Richard Childress Racing, the drivers admit that there are several nuances involved in racing for the win in these events.

"We have a pretty firm understanding on where everybody stands on our team," Richard Childress Racing's Kevin Harvick says. "You help yourself do what you can do and if you're in a position to win the race, to help a teammate win the race - then you help him do that. ... If you're coming to a lap or two to go, you want your teammate behind you, but up until that point, you really kind of do what's best for yourself. It's hard to have everybody have that understanding, but I think between myself, Jeff (Burton) and Clint (Bowyer), I think we have a pretty good understanding that we're not going to screw the guy in front of you or behind you. You're just trying to protect what you've got and do the right thing for what you've got going."

Burton admits there's a lot more to it than a simple plan in advance.

In his lengthy career, he's seen it all.

He understands exactly what is at stake - for everyone involved - with the race on the line.

"I've been teammates for a long time with a lot of different people and you're destined to have your heart broke," Burton says. "You're destined to get disappointed because you think that the world revolves around you and when you turn left, your teammate should turn left. The reality of it is that your teammate has to do what he has to do to make sure that he gets the best finish that he can get."

Races at Daytona and Talladega merely highlight that issue. Burton says that if one expects more than he is willing to give, then he's going to be disappointed.

Drivers are like anyone else. They have to do what they have to do in certain situations.

There's a lot to think about and consider in a short amount of time, especially in those tight packs of cars swarming around the track. That is true of races at both tracks.

"When you're drafting, you have to have the mindset of, 'If I give something, is it beneficial for the guy behind me to do that as well.' Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do and hope that they do it," Burton said. "People are always going to be disappointed; people are always going to feel like they got hung out. We have a rule ... and it's that if you can help me, help me. If you're going to hurt yourself by helping me then I don't want you to help me because guess what? I'm not going to help you if it's going to hurt me. That's just how it has to be.

"You can't help push a guy across the start-finish line to win the race when you could have pushed your own guy. When you have a choice to make, then you try to make the right choice, but there are many times that the choice you have to make is the choice of what's best for you. We are teammates, but my sponsors, my team, my fans expect me to win and that's the mentality you have to have. It's not selfish, it's just racing. We're here to compete and that's what we're doing. We help each other when we can, but when it doesn't work then you can't help each other and you have to expect that as well as be willing to give it."

In the end, it's tempting to just work with whoever is fastest - whether that happens to be a teammate or not.

After all, everyone is in this sport to win it. And while finishing second to a teammate is good for an organization overall, it's not always possible for a driver to sit in position and push his teammate to the win - even if that's what he wants to do.

Going into Sunday's race at Talladega, drivers know that - and recognize that it's hard to make a plan in advance for a race when so much can happen in just a handful of laps.

"It's all about the last couple of laps - getting in the right line with the right drivers behind you," Richard Petty Motorsports' Kasey Kahne says. "You just never know who they're going to be. I've tried to go with (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) a couple times and it hasn't worked. I've went with Junior and it has worked.

"I've went with other guys -- you just never really know, but you try to make the right guess and hope that it works out."