The uproar after Sunday's race has been focused on Trevor Bayne, in his Ford, hanging Jeff Gordon, in his Chevrolet, out to dry late in the race.
After spending two days in the garage area leading up to Sunday's race, it became really clear to me the message was: The Fords were not to help another manufacturer in the race. It was even taken a step further: The Ford drivers were not to help a member of another manufacturer that was in NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Do I blame team owner Jack Roush and the Ford camp for that? I absolutely do not, because, let's face it, it is crunch time. The championship is on the line. We are down to the final hours of the 2011 season. There are only four races left. So I totally support Roush mandating this. I truly, truly do.
What had me scratching my head were the negotiations that went on between Bayne and Gordon prior to that last restart in the race. I just knew listening to it that it wasn't going to work because of the Ford mandate. So my point is, if Bayne really did agree to help Gordon and then hung him out to dry, well, that is totally wrong.
Knowing the champion and veteran racer he is, if Gordon asked Bayne for help and Bayne said he couldn't, Gordon could have accepted that. He really would have. Do not tell the man you will help him and then hang him out to dry like that if that indeed is what happened.
With these next four tracks, the drafting component becomes much less of a factor; and at Martinsville this week, no factor. So team orders should be a non-factor the rest of the way.
Now there are things teammates can do at these last four stops to help each other. Can you let a teammate lead a lap for the Chase points? Sure. Can you maybe help a Chase teammate on pit road if the situation arose? Sure.
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I really enjoyed the end of Sunday's race. Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer raced all day long. Unlike others, they didn't fall to the back and hang out there until the end. They raced to win. So I just thought it was appropriate that it came down to them when the checkered flag waved.
I am not going to sit here and tell you Hendrick Motorsports' strategy of staying back until the end was wrong. It's worked for them in the past, and most recently this spring at Talladega, where Jimmie Johnson won the race. I mean, let's face it, they also had three drivers in the top five of that finish and four in the top eight.
With all that said, it simply wasn't the right strategy Sunday. The facts are unfortunately very clear. Jimmie Johnson's finish of 26th, coupled with his 34th-place finish at Charlotte, has all but put the final nail in the coffin of his dream of a sixth straight championship.
I think you saw Dale Earnhardt Jr. do what was asked of him because he is a team player, but I just think he absolutely hates the lagging back strategy. He's just like his dad -- he wants to be leading the pack around. I mean, c'mon, we didn't give him the nickname the "Pied Piper" just because. He earned that nickname race after race at Talladega being up front and pulling the field around. So I just suspect you will see a new type of strategy especially for him when we go restrictor plate racing next year.
I think Carl Edwards received a huge gift on Sunday. He used the same strategy and came home 11th. With Matt Kenseth losing his dance partner there at the end, plus Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch having problems, he put distance between himself and the others.
Actually, he eliminated a lot of contenders for the championship. He has to be thrilled that he got out of there with an 11th-place finish and boiled this down to basically a five-car field for the championship, with four races to go.