There's No Such Thing as a Teammate in Sprint Cup Racing
As children we are taught two things: to share your toys and never to tell secrets.
As race car drivers, you are taught to share information with your teammates and never to tell your secrets of success. The one word that is repeated is: teamwork.
Teamwork, teamwork, teamwork. Always work with your teammate.
When one succeeds, they all say they're happy for them and glad for the organization. Although you know that they're standing there wondering why it was someone else and not them.
In 2008, the performance from certain teams, however, is making it hard to believe that teamwork is taking place.
Three perfect examples are Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch.
Through the first 26 races, Kyle Busch was the man to beat. He piled up eight wins, 17 top fives, 21 top tens and led 1,673 laps which prompted fans and media alike to crown him the 2008 Sprint Cup Champion. They were also looking where his place would be in history and making comparisons to Dale Earnhardt.
He won on superspeedways, short tracks and road courses, as Joe Gibbs Racing became the team to beat. Except, it wasn’t Joe Gibbs Racing, it was Kyle Busch.
His JGR teammates, Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart, were nowhere near as dominant as Busch was. Hamlin won his first and only race of the year at Martinsville in his home state, the eighth event. After that, he never saw victory lane again and slid through the standings.
At Michigan, he said that his team didn’t deserve to be in the Chase with the way they were performing.
Tony Stewart, on the other hand, had his own drama going on. He led laps and dominated races, such as Bristol and Charlotte and was in contention for the win until late when problems arose. Problems such as Kevin Harvick and a blown tire.
Then he announced that he would be leaving Joe Gibbs Racing at season's end to form his own team. It was another ending of an era between driver and team.
Stewart made the Chase but was still winless...until Talladega rolled around and NASCAR declared Stewart the winner after Regan Smith passed him under the yellow line.
No matter the way or race, Stewart had broken his winless streak. But it didn’t help salvage his rocky season.
Kyle Busch was running away from the field and his teammates were just hoping to stay within his dust.
But as the Chase approached, Busch received some company in the form of Carl Edwards who was carrying the banner for his organization, Roush Fenway Racing.
Edwards racked up six wins, and his teammates had zero as the Chase began in Loudon, N.H.
Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, and David Ragan all had goose eggs in the win column.
The man carrying the banner for Hendrick Motorsports was not the defending champion or four-time champion. Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon were both having their own struggles in the early part of 2008.
The newest member of the company, Dale Earnhardt Jr., was the strongest running Hendrick car for the first half of the season. He was third in points for majority of the year before finally jumping to second to split up the couple of Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards.
Johnson won Hendrick Motorsports' first race of the year, Earnhardt Jr. won the second and still remained the strongest car.
In fact, Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus said that besides testing, they were learning a lot from Earnhardt Jr. and his crew chief, Tony Eury Jr., even using their set-ups when struggling on certain race weekends.
The four-time champion, on the other hand, was having one of the worst seasons of his career. He finished 43rd for the first time at Texas, and he and his crew chief, Steve Letarte, just couldn’t find the chemistry they had from a year ago.
Casey Mears was once again the odd man out, the worst Hendrick car of them all.
Then the Chase began and everything that seemed so predictable from the regular season became an afterthought.
Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards started the Chase seeded first and second in points with Jimmie Johnson not far behind thanks to his late-season charge.
Edwards and Johnson went on to battle for the championship, winning six of the 10 Chase races between them before finishing first and second in points.
Edwards’ teammates, Kenseth and Ragan, failed to win a race. Kenseth finished 11th in points and Ragan 13th.
Biffle, on the other hand, gave it his best shot at the championship, throwing his name in the ring by winning the first two Chase races. He finished third in points.
As for Kyle Busch’s season, the wheels fell off when the Chase began just like his JGR teammate season. He finished 10h in points, Stewart finished ninth and Hamlin eighth.
Jimmie Johnson went on to win his third consecutive championship. Casey Mears failed to win a race this year as well as Jeff Gordon for the first time since 1993.
Mears was ranked 20th and Gordon seventh.
Meanwhile, Earnhardt Jr. stumbled through the second half of the season when his luck ran out. After winning at Michigan in June, he started fifth in points when the Chase began. But his good fortune and momentum was gone, as he slid to 12h in points by seasons end.
All of his good notes must have gone to Jimmie Johnson, and in return Earnhardt Jr. got....what?
What does it mean to work with your teammates? If everyone has all the same equipment and they all say that they share notes, then why do some succeed and others don’t?
“Your teammates aren’t really your teammates,” said Mark Martin. “If they were, they would only be on the track to make sure you won.”
Instead each is out there trying to win for themselves. And that's what racing is about.
Most teams do have an open-door policy and require that they all share everything except their wives. But after the way that Johnson, Edwards and Busch ran compared to their teammates, are they really telling their teammates everything?
“You hear all kinds of things,” Greg Zipadelli, now crew chief for Joey Logano says. “You hear about some teams that share information, others that don’t, and some that share some (but not all) information.”
If one driver and crew chief have found something they really like, then they obviously aren’t going to tell anyone about it.
Take Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus who a) don’t allow any photographers in their garages and b) who have no problem taking information from their teammates, but you rarely hear of their teammates learning anything from them.
Not once, did either of them say thanks to Tony Eury Jr. or Dale Earnhardt Jr. after winning the championship in Homestead.
Or case in point: take last year at Martinsville, after practice Jimmie Johnson was 43rd on the practice sheet and only using three of his four wheels while trying to control the car. Then Chad Knaus asked Steve Letarte for the set-up from the No. 24 car.
Johnson went out and won the race; Gordon finished second.
Gordon has also used Johnson’s set-up, but not with the same results. Edwards also passed along his set-up to teammates but they never won a race this year.
His teammates were wondering why he was getting better fuel mileage than they were.
Busch’s teammates must have been wondering why his chemistry with his team was better than there's was with their teams, who were together longer.
Yes, all teams “share” information. The only problem is, they're not sharing what they should: the true information they have about what the track and tires doing or how the cars are reacting.
John Fernandez, Chip Ganassi’s managing director said, “There might be a few little secrets that a crew chief has hidden here or there.”
Then why have teammates at all?
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