September 15, 2012
Won for all in NASCAR Chase?Teammates facing dicey situations with a championship on the line
By Dean McNulty, QMI Agency
JOLIETT, ILL. - Only in NASCAR and the Canadian Football League will you find professional sports teams with the same owner battling for a championship.
In the CFL, of course, you have the Toronto Argonauts and the B.C. Lions both owned by David Braley, and the way things are shaping up in the three-down league those two teams have a better than realistic chance of facing off in November in the 100th Grey Cup.
In NASCAR Sprint Cup it is even more ridiculous in that Rick Hendrick owns four teams — the No. 48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet, the
No. 24 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet, the No. 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet and the No. 5 Kasey Kahne Chevrolet — all of which are in the 10-race Chase for the Championship starting Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway with the GEICO 400.
Team owners Jack Roush and Michael Waltrip also have two two drivers each — Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth in Fords and Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer in Toyotas — in the Chase.
While all of these teams profess to being in it as teammates, there has to be a part of each of them that knows when push comes to shove all the teammate stuff is out the window.
Johnson, a five-time champion, has battled a teammate before — in 2007 he and Gordon went down to the wire before Johnson pulled out the win.
“It was different; you feel the tension at times because we were in the same shop at that point,” he said on Friday of his duel with Gordon. “The No. 24 and everybody involved in that team wants a championship and is well deserving of that and we do too.”
But Johnson said he is also a firm believer in teammates sticking together to do what is best for the whole organization.
He recalled that in his 2010 fight with the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Denny Hamlin, his team reached out and drafted Gordon’s entire pit crew for the final two races after his own group couldn’t get the job done.
“We are a big family at Hendrick Motorsports and I think that year (2010) showed how united we all are and how dedicated we are to getting a Hendrick car to win the championship,” Johnson said.
In that instance, however, Gordon and the No. 24 team had been all but eliminated from the competition and Johnson admitted with all four Hendrick teams in the Chase this season, that kind of move would be harder to pull off if all of them are still contending down the stretch.
“We really don’t want to be in that position again,” he said. “We have made some decisions to keep us from being in that situation and we will do what we can to help our teammates.”
When asked specifically just how far the teammate deal goes, Johnson said that when the checkered flag is in sight it is everybody for himself.
“When we get in the race car it’s all about what each individual team can do to win,” he said. “It’s win a race and get maximum points for themselves.”
Although the four teams share a database where all information from each of the teams is entered after each race it is up to the crew chiefs to decide how a piece of information on the No. 48 team might help another team and Johnson doesn’t see that kind of sharing changing during the next 10 races.
“I don’t see it being a lot different and so much of that is due to the fact that the database is there with everything available.
“Every adjustment we make (to the car) is entered in. It is up to the crew chiefs and the engineers to dig through that and find what might work for their race car. I don’t see it being a lot different in the Chase.”
Johnson did say that it would make it easier if the guy he is fighting on the track with was not a teammate at this time of year.
“It would help me sleep better at night,” he said.
As for an instance where a Hendrick teammate might want to interfere with another driver to help Johnson win, NASCAR would take a dim view of that situation.
NASCAR competition boss Robin Pemberton has said that the series is always on guard for instances where there might be team orders — one driver moving over or slowing down to let a teammate win — but he has not had to deal with that in the past.
DANICA BACKS STEWART
Danica Patrick put her prognosticating skills to work on Friday, and to absolutely no one’s surprise, she picked her NASCAR Sprint Cup boss Tony Stewart to win this year’s Chase for the Championship.
This, even though her Nationwide Series boss Dale Earnhardt Jr., is also a contender for the title.
“Well, I guess since I’ll be driving for Stewart-Haas next year, I guess it would mean I would probably be cheering for Tony a little bit more since that will be my full-time team next year, if I had to pick one,” she said, before adding, “That’s a really unfair question.”
Patrick, however, did say that the 12-man Chase is all about momentum and that any one of the drivers can get hot over the 10-race schedule.
“I think when the Chase comes around it’s about momentum and who is coming into it with momentum,” she said. “Then again, you look at what Tony did last year.
“I can remember watching the interviews and the few races leading up to the end of the regular season and into the Chase, and he was getting put on the spot every weekend about making it in. Then he came in and just kicked ass.”
Patrick said that the Chase, unlike the format used in the IndyCar Series, creates excitement for fans as well as for the drivers who are in it.
“That’s what makes it exciting; that’s what creates good story lines for these last 10 races of the season and obviously the ones before it leading up to it,” she said. “So, it’s a good marketing thing and good for PR what NASCAR has created.”
Patrick said that the level of competition is very tough among the Chase drivers, with no weak links.
“I think it’s going to be a tough championship,” she said. “You can never count guys like Tony out for sure. You’ve got Jimmie (Johnson) and Denny’s (Hamlin) has been on a roll and I think Dale Jr. has got a good shot. It’s going to be interesting to watch. I’m looking forward to it.”
Greg Biffle says he feels a bit like the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield — he just can’t get any respect.
Biffle, who has been at or near the top of the championship leaderboard for most of the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, is listed at anywhere from 10-1 to 18-1 in Las Vegas to win this year’s crown.
“We have been at the top of the points the whole time,” he said Friday. “Maybe people just don’t expect us to continue to stay there for another 10 weeks.”
He said if he were a betting man he might put a few dollars down with the bookies on himself and the No. 16 Roush Fenway Ford team.
“Sounds like an easy way to make some money,” Biffle said. “I never really look at that stuff much but it doesn’t seem that great of odds, it seems like it might be 15 or 18-1 but 10-1 I don’t think is still a bad bet from my point of view.”
As for who he thinks should be the favourite to win it all, Biffle wasn’t offering an opinion.
“I don’t think there is one I would put in front of the other right now,” he said. “Ask me that in five races.”
ANDRETTI ON INDYCAR POLE
Marco Andretti surprised everyone with a two-lap average of 216.069 m.p.h. Friday to claim the pole position for Saturday’s IZOD IndyCar Series finale in the MATV 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
For Andretti, driving the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Chevrolet, it was his first pole of the season.
Ryan Briscoe will start beside him on the front row after averaging 216.058 m.p.h, in the No. 2 Penske Racing Chevrolet at the two-mile oval.
Championship points leader Will Power was third fastest over two laps at 215.940 m.p.h. in the No. 12 Penske Chevrolet.
Josef Newgarden, in the No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda and Scott Dixon, in the No. 9 Ganassi Racing Honda rounded out the top five at 215.919 and 215.391 m.p.h., respectively.
The top Canadian was Alex Tagliani, of Montreal, in the
No. 98 Barracuda/Bryan Herta Autosports Honda, who was sixth fastest at 215.226 m.p.h.
Oakville’s James Hinchcliffe will start 12th on Saturday after posting an average of 213.726 m.p.h. in the No. 27 Andretti Chevrolet.
His other Andretti teammate, Ryan Hunter-Reay, who goes into Saturday’s race trailing Power by 17 points qualified 17th at 212.773 m.p.h., but will start from the back after crashing his No. 28
Chevrolet in practice on Wednesday.
Hunter-Reay said he wasn’t too concerned about his starting position as it is a long race — 500 miles — and it is easier to pass on a big oval like that in Fontana.
Simone de Silvestro and Justin Wilson will also start from the rear of the grid after an engine change a crash respectively during practice.