|Carl Edwards (right), driver of the No. 99 Aflac Ford, and Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, talk with members of the media during the NASCAR Champions Contenders press conference earlier this week in Miami. (GETTY IMAGES)
HOMESTEAD, FLA. - The prospect of team orders playing a part in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup championship finale reared its ugly head Friday at Homestead Miami Speedway.
With Carl Edwards in the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford and Tony Stewart in the No. 14 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet locked in a battle that pits traditional rivals Ford against Chevrolet, several drivers of both manufacturers said the spectre of helping out one of their own is tempting, and in some cases real.
Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, said while no one would ever admit to doing something nefarious that would deliberately affect the outcome of the championship, there is certainly something to be said for helping a teammate, or in Stewart’s case, a fellow Chevy driver.
“I think everybody in a Chevrolet would rather see a Chevrolet win just knowing how much it means to the manufacturer,” Harvick said. “Yeah, if Tony has a question or needs something ... you go about cutting him some slack on restarts, little things like that and on pit road whatever the case may be.”
At the same time Harvick said he would never do anything, like wrecking Edwards on purpose to hand Stewart the Sprint Cup trophy.
“Obviously Tony is a good friend of mine but you can’t disrupt the pureness of the sport and the emotions and all the things that go with that,” Harvick said. “You don’t want to be that guy that always shows up on the highlight reel that affected the championship.”
At the same time Harvick said it could become a dicey situation late in the race when the pressure is on to assure a fellow Chevrolet driver a win, or in the No. 14 team’s case, a championship.
“I don’t know, you have to draw your own conclusion to that,” he said. “This is just one of those questions where you just really don’t have the right answer. You want to do what’s right for yourself and you want to do what’s right for your teammates.”
Stewart’s actual teammate, Ryan Newman, said while he is all for helping Tony any way he can, it has to be within the rules. But he does agree that there probably will be team orders on Sunday.
“I think there has always been some form of team orders, but my little baby is one year old and I can order her around all I want and it does not mean she is going to listen to me,” Newman, driver of the No. 39 SHR Chevrolet, said.
“From my standpoint, it is business as usual, I will do everything I can to help him, I will do whatever I can to not hurt him, but I will not sacrifice myself, or my team. I don’t think that is the right way of racing.”
Matt Kenseth, who is a teammate of Edwards over at RFR, said that he, too, will share all he knows about Homestead and his No. 17 Ford, but once the green flag drops to start the race it is every man for himself.
“We do all our helping with teammates during the week at the shop, after practice, maybe after qualifying (on Saturday) comparing notes and things about what the track did and our set up,” he said. (But) when you race on Sunday it is one against 42.”
Four-time champion Jeff Gordon said that helping out another driver — whether he be a teammate or just a buddy — has always been a part of the sport.
“I think it’s always (been there), alliances are always important whether it’s a teammate or a relationship you have with another team or it could be your buddy,” he 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.
“I think that’s always been the case. It’s not just something that’s come up recently.”
He said that is particularly true of his relationship with Stewart, who buys his cars and engines from Hendrick Motorsports.
“We do 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,” he said. “(But) I would think that you hope those don’t come into affect here on Sunday, but they certainly could.”