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Why can’t teammates get along?

8 June 2010

The latest in the growing list of intra-team rivalries surfaced on the final lap of Sunday's Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway.

Kasey Kahne had a strong run off Turn 1. His Richard Petty Motorsports teammate AJ Allmendinger tried to block Kahne's progress. Allmendinger's move forced Kahne to the infield grass and ignited a nine-car pileup that got nasty when Kahne's Ford shot back across the track and tried to climb the fence over the hood of Greg Biffle's car.

The incident was strikingly similar to the ill-advised block Jimmie Johnson tried to put on Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon in April at Talladega, minus the melee on the racetrack. Through the media, Gordon gave Johnson a strong tongue lashing. Kahne did the same Sunday.

“I don't know what AJ was doing there,” Kahne said after the wreck. “I don't talk to AJ hardly ever. I doubt I'm going to talk to him about this.”

In the case of Johnson and Gordon, cooler heads seem to have prevailed—there hasn't been another eruption of angry rhetoric since Talladega. The same goes for Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, who arrived at a truce after their misunderstanding in the May 22 Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte.

Mending fences isn't as much a matter of urgency for Kahne and Allmendinger. Kahne has announced his departure from RPM at the end of the season to drive for Hendrick Motorsports or an affiliated Chevrolet team. Allmendinger is testing the waters of the free-agent market, and given his obvious talent, he'll have plenty of offers.

For whatever reason, the Year of the Tiger in the Chinese calendar has been replete with teammate-on-teammate crime—and not just in NASCAR racing. Red Bull teammates Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber knocked each other out of a 1-2 finish in the May 30 Formula One Turkish Grand Prix.

Tony Kanaan was unhappy with Andretti Autosport teammate Danica Patrick after Saturday night's IndyCar race at Texas. (“Unfortunately, I got chopped back to 17th by my teammate, and we had to work our way back through the field,” Kanaan said after the race.)

When teammates work together, however, the results can be phenomenal. Hamlin and Busch finished 1-2 at Pocono, and both worked with teammate Joey Logano before the race. Logano was headed for a top-five finish Sunday until Kevin Harvick spun him in Turn 3 on the next-to-last scheduled lap and sent the race to overtime.

“Such an example of teamwork—people say you have three different cars, but really, truly it takes great teamwork at this level,” owner Joe Gibbs said. “I think it's been Kyle at some mile-and-a-half stuff helping Denny. I think right now both of them have really helped Joey.”

See? Cooperation has its benefits.

Admittedly, it didn't come easily. Gibbs, Hamlin and Busch met in Hamlin's hauler after the all-star race. When Hamlin fanned the flames of the rivalry with some snarky comments before the Coca-Cola 600—”I didn't say that I was going to take over this team or be the leader of this team, but somebody's got to be the leader. It ain't going to be Kyle.”—Gibbs had another stern talk with the driver of his No. 11 Toyota.

If harmony breeds success, then success also takes the edge off animosity. Between them, Hamlin and Busch have won six of the past nine Cup races—and the series crown is beginning to sit uneasily on Johnson's head.


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