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Team Orders? With Formula One and NHRA facing heated complaints over teammates 'fixing' things to help teammates, what could happen with NASCAR's playoff spots on the line?

  Juan Pablo Montoya says 'team orders' are de rigeur in Formula One...and in NASCAR what does he expect, with playoff spots on the line? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   With spots in NASCAR's championship playoffs on the line in Saturday night's Richmond 400, in this era of multi-car teams is there the possibility of some shenanigans by teammates to try to help a teammate make it into the chase…or perhaps keep someone else out of the chase?
    But certainly, drivers say.
   In Formula One there is a major such controversy over charges by Nelson Piquet Jr. that he was told to crash last year in order to help teammate Fernando Alonso, and that has escalated to legal charges by Renault in the affair.
   And in the NHRA legendary John Force is facing complaints by rivals that he may have 'tanked' a race at Indianapolis, running too slowly, in order to keep rival Cruz Pedregon out of that sport's championship, a complaint Force himself chafes at.
   So what to expect in Saturday's big race here?
   Juan Pablo Montoya, when asked if he, when he drove in Formula One, was asked to do something to help a teammate, something he might personally have thought wasn't quite kosher, said simply "Yes."
    And Montoya, who is trying to make the playoff cut here, while teammate Martin Truex Jr., is already out of the running, says he's certain that other teams looking at the championship are considering their own game plans: For example, Montoya pointed out, teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, both going for the playoffs, are facing just such a situation – Hamlin is locked in the chase, while Busch is 14th and needs some breaks and a good run to make the 12-man cut. Montoya says he's certain that Hamlin and Busch – either of whom could win this 400 – are aware of that situation, and if Hamlin is ahead of Busch down the stretch, and Busch were to need those points, he would expect Hamlin to let Busch have the spot.
   How far would Hamlin go in Saturday's 400 to help Busch make the chase? Hamlin said he would give him "anything but a win." Hamline said if he were running second, and Busch needed that spot to make the playoffs, he'd give him that spot.
  Another man in Busch's situation, on the outside, looking in, is Brian Vickers. Might Vickers' teammate Scott Speed, not in championship contention, help Vickers?
   Others in the same situation: teammates Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth, both on the bubble, with teammates like Jamie McMurray and David Ragan out of the chase.
  Once upon a time in NASCAR, it wasn't unusual for a driver to deliberately spin to bring out a caution to help someone else. The price: maybe a set of tires, maybe $500. And at times the issue wasn't very well hidden by the men involved.Now 'throwing a race' may be a strong phrase….but is there 'acceptable' help and 'unacceptable' help? Where is the line?
   "That is a good question," Johnson concedes. "I guess there's something in your consciousness that tells you. Whatever that sense is helps us make those decisions and
   "This is a new topic for me. I hadn't even thought of it. But I guess it's in people's minds.
   "We race for every point we can get.
   "If you're leading the race, I'm not pulling out of the way to let Mark in the chase. But if you're running 20th, and he's right behind you, it's different."
     Ryan Newman says such situations aren't new in sports, even in NASCAR. Newman is still trying to make the chase, while teammate Tony Stewart is leading the standings and locked in the playoffs.
    There are several such situations here.
    To get Mark Martin in the playoffs, for another example, might Jimmie Johnson or Jeff Gordon – both themselves already locked it – do something perhaps untoward to help Martin?
   "I wouldn't say that people won't do it," Johnson said, speaking generally. "But in my time at Hendrick Motorsports it's never come up, it's never even been discussed.
   "If we threw something for Mark, I don't think he'd tolerate something like that. He'd probably get out and kick some ass. He wants to make this on his own.
  "Again I'm not saying that teams aren't talking about it. I know we're not talking about it. But the other part to it is -- and this would weigh on my mind -- I race against these guys every week...And what comes around goes around. You don't want to control fate like that in a sense...and I just don't think I could have that on my conscience -- just to throw a race for that to happen. I couldn't.
    "At Eldora (Wednesday night) I saw Cruz Pedregon, and got a little insight. We were all talking about it. It sounds like it was a pretty heated battle, and evidently Force tried to throw the race, and if that's the case, people don't want that on their conscience…and people aren't going to tolerate it.
    "And you have to race with these people every week…and there will be a way of having things balancing out. Especially in our sport, it's pretty easy to even things out."
    Montoya: "There's always a line where I think a teammate can help…but one thing is helping the other is hurting somebody trying to help. I think that's crossing the line.
    "I'll give an example: if Kyle Busch needs to go by Denny Hamlin (to make the playoffs), and Hamlin is winning the race, and if Kyle needs to win the race and get into the chase, you would think they are going to tell Denny to get out of the gas to help his teammate, wouldn't you? I guarantee you that's been talked in the team. It would be crazy if they haven't.
    "Maybe I just gave them an idea."
   Does Montoya really think Hamlin, in that situation, would give up the win in order to let his teammate make the playoffs? "If you're a team player you would, wouldn't you?" Montoya replied.
    "Hopefully it doesn't come down to that."
   And when Montoya was in Formula One was he ever asked to do something he didn't really want to do, something he perhaps didn't feel was kosher? 
    "I don't think they put it that way," Montoya said. "I think they just go 'For the benefit of the team we need your help.'
     "It's not an order; it's supposed to be at your discretion. But if you like doing what you're doing, you better obey."
   And Montoya laughed.
   Vickers said he wasn't that familiar with the Force-Pedregon incident. But: "As far as tomorrow night, I'm sure the teammates are going to do whatever they can to help. 
    "In our sport I don't know if they could throw the race. 
    "But if you're running for a chase spot, and you catch a teammate, you hope to think he would at least let you go (pass). 
    "Do I expect to see teammates causing harm to competitors over something like that?  I don't think so.
    "I'm not going to say that it couldn't happen, but we race with each other too much, too often, for stuff like that to go down. 
     "It just never seems to work out in the long run. 
     "I think most of the drivers at this level in the sport realize that. 
     "And there are still 10 races left -- if you wreck someone to get into the chase – you may be in the chase, but you probably won't win the championship."
    Kenseth said teammates do help teammates, even slowing down to let them around, to lead a lap and get bonus points. How far a teammate might go, "I don't know," Kenseth said.  "All of that stuff is possible…and it happens all year from Daytona to here. 
    "I don't want to misspeak but somewhere not too long ago I know there was one car (a NASCAR driver) who pulled over and let his teammate lead a lap; and he had to slow way down to let him lead a lap. Then he passed him back and took off. So that's the same thing. 
    "There's just more emphasis on it…and they're going to talk about it because it's Richmond and the last race (to make the chase). 
    "I don't know how many points the leaders have but it's in the thousands (Tony Stewart leads with 3,694 points), so a lot of those points are five points here and 10 points there, given to help teammates and friends and stuff like that all year long. And I don't think that's really any different this week."
    And has Kenseth ever been asked to move over and let someone pass?
    "That has not ever happened to me," Kenseth said. "I've never had anybody do that to me, and I've never done that to anybody.
    "I don't really foresee that happening. 
     "Everybody is trying to get the best run they can. 
      "Certainly if you have a teammate or a friend or somebody you respect, or they respect you on the track, and maybe you have a chance to lead a lap and get points -- just like any other week all year -- that stuff probably happens.
    "But I certainly don't think you're going to see teammates, or anybody, do anything goofy to change the outcome."
    Carl Edwards says if teammates Biffle and Kenseth need a break to make the chase, he'll try to help…short of wrecking someone out.  "I've already thought about that, in regards to my teammates -- and if there's anything I can do to help my teammates, I'd do it. 
    "This is a team sport, and especially at this point in the year -- having more teammates in the chase is good. 
    "If I can help Matt and Greg, that's what I'm going to do."
    Even it might mean giving up the win? "That's a tough call," Edwards says. "If that's what it took, and that's what had to happen, then that's what I would do."
   But Edwards says he's not taking anyone out: "You can't take somebody out, because you're not just taking that person out, you're taking out their team and their sponsors.
   "I don't think it will come to that.  I think that would be an ugly way to have the season shape up."
 NASCAR's John Darby, the Cup tour director, says drivers and teams know the rules, and he's confident they won't abuse them in this area:
   "The deal with Force looks like it could look differently depending on whose glasses you're wearing," Darby pointed out.
  "We've been very fortunate in communicating with the teams that they know we're looking for the team-type stuff that could determine an outcome.
   "To this date we haven't had any issues, other than someone laying over and letting someone lead a lap.
   "But then that happens between teammates and between non-teammates too.
    "If it came to a blatant attempt to knock somebody out of the race, we would have to look at it very closely.
    "But more importantly we would have to be very certain what happened, before we made any decision.
   "The worst part is making sure -- having that 100 percent confidence in the fact that that is what really happen.
   "A couple of cars rubbing fenders, somebody could scream 'Hey, looking, they're helping their teammate.' But that's not saying that maybe he was rubbing fenders with the last five guys he passed too.
   "There's part of it you can control, part of it you can't.
   "With the point standings as tight as it is, there aren't a lot of guys in the top-12 who can afford to take the chance of screwing around to help somebody."
    And Darby pointed out drivers in this sport tend to police themselves rather effectively most of the time.

   NASCAR's John Darby, the law both east and west of the Pecos, says he's confident Cup drivers won't abuse 'team orders.' (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



Team orders? NASCAR in on

Team orders? NASCAR in on the fix? Isn't that the way things are run now with qualifying? (The Champion's Provisional aka the Richard Petty rule) Another classic example of NASCAR having favorites is again "King" Richard Petty's 199th win in Charlotte with an "oversized" engine. Instead of disqualification, they allowed him the win and meager fine of $50,000.

Team orders? When Dale Earnhardt was in close competition for the Winston Cup Championship, Richard Childress would bring in Neil Bonnett to qualify a car, race a few laps and "start & park" or finish strong enough to pad point standings enough to allow Earnhardt to win. NASCAR knew that was the deal and they just turned their backs and whistle.

First of all, Petty's fine

First of all, Petty's fine included over 130 points. Second, the reason there was no disqualification was because the second-place car (Junior Johnson's #11) loaded up and left before it could be inspected.

John Darby's words mean nothing because he's consistently proven he doesn't know what he is doing between mediocre stewardship of BGN, bastardizing the cars with massive cuts in downforce and the ongoing tire fiasco, all before the competitive debacle that is the COT. I expect team order racing to become more of the norm than it already is, and it is a major part of why the sport has lost a lot of popularity.

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