Family dynamics are always an issue approaching the holiday season. You invite Crazy Uncle Mike over for Thanksgiving dinner and before you know it, Brother Larry takes a pumpkin pie to the face because Crazy Mike is off the meds.
That’s the wholesome dynamic we see at Stewart-Haas Racing heading into the four-race stretch run of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
While the stout four-driver Joe Gibbs Racing crew is hanging out, cool and calm, protecting its turf, the SHR gang seems intent on taking a wrecking ball to its championship chances.
Why else would you jab a teammate in the face?
Kevin Harvick leaned inside the car of teammate Kurt Busch and jabbed him after everyone had turned off their engines in Sunday’s race at Talladega.
He obviously was miffed that Busch’s car made contact with his on the cool-down lap.
“Yeah, the final laps everybody is just pushing and shoving and then he [Busch] cleaned the side of our car out after the checkered flag,” Harvick said. “I don’t really understand that, but, all in all, the Jimmy John’s Chevrolet team did a great job and didn’t have a scratch on it until then.”
Busch tried to put an apologetic spin on it, although the visual evidence didn’t match the kumbaya spirit.
“He has a misunderstanding of the call at the end of the race,” Busch said. “He will understand it and I’m sure he will clear it up in his interview. For us, we are great teammates. We are doing good together. We have to work together to beat all these other teams out there and he knows that.”
Busch is right about one thing: They will need to work together, especially because the Gibbs guys have four drivers — Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth — advancing in the next-to-final round.
Racing teammates always are an unusual dynamic in motor sports. In the end, it is each driver for himself. But you don’t want any con- tentious relationships in play before the green flag drops.
Harvick and Busch are two of the best drivers in the business. They are also among the most ornery.
To his credit, Busch has worked hard to rid himself of that Bad Boy image since crossing over to SHR in 2014. He has qualified for the Chase in three consecutive seasons.
Harvick has a contentious body of work in the Chase involving physical confrontations. Harvick shoved Jimmie Johnson in the chest after the Chase opener in Chicago last year. And in 2014, he helped trigger a fracas between Brad Kese-lowski and Jeff Gordon in Texas when he shoved Keselowski into Gordon. But they weren’t his teammates.
Busch and Harvick have an edge to them, which can be good and bad. They obviously take after their boss, Tony Stewart. Throw in Danica Patrick, who despite her struggles never suffers fools lightly. That gives you four Type-A personalities under the same roof.
You don’t have to be Dr. Phil to realize that tensions can escalate in a hurry.
So maybe this is a one-and-done deal. Maybe not.
Regardless, these boys are going to be fun to watch. Just be careful of any flying pumpkin pies.
JGR keeps rolling
The Internet was not kind to the guys from Joe Gibbs Racing on Sunday, a day on which Edwards, Kenseth and Kyle Busch spent cruising in the back, their left-turn signals blinking as the proverbial slowpokes on Talladega’s super-speedway.
They didn’t have anything to lose hanging in the back, but much could go wrong if they tried to race in the front.
So what’s a man supposed to do? Exactly what they did.
Fans took to their keyboards to express displeasure, but it was a pointless rant.
“I think really guys would rather be in the situation where they feel like they’ve got to go win,” owner Joe Gibbs said. “I think the drivers kind of all feel that way, but at the same time it’s a playoff and you’ve got to say what is smart and so you certainly don’t want to make a big mistake of some kind and cost your sponsor and everybody that’s wrapped into this. It’s a huge deal for us today.”
Each and every sport establishes the rules of engagement. The NASCAR Chase hybrid — a deal involving wins and points — encourages a cautionary approach if you are on the brink of qualifying for the next round, a move that gets you closer to a championship.
And that is everyone’s goal, first and foremost.
Kenseth finished 28th, Edwards 29th and Busch 30th in the Hellmann’s 500. And Hamlin, in a more precarious position, finished third, allowing all JGR drivers to advance.
This is no different than teams running out the clock in football, the quarterback taking a knee to preserve a victory. No matter that you needed 10 more passing yards from your guy to win your fantasy-football game.
The reality is to play within the rules and do everything you can within the rules to win a championship.
Kenseth, Edwards and Busch did just that — with strong finishes in the previous two races locking them into the Chase grid barring cataclysmic circumstances.
Hanging in the back helped make sure that nothing bad happened.
Joey Logano will begin the third round of the Chase without the worry of getting bushwhacked from behind by a driver such as Kenseth, for instance.
Their infamous spat that played out on the race track last year cost each a shot at the title. For Logano, it’s all about perspective now.
“As a person you always grow, or you hope to grow every day, hope to rest your head at bed every night and say, ‘I learned this today and I’m gonna be better tomorrow,’” Logano said after winning at Talladega.
“I feel like I’m better today than I was yesterday and I feel like I should be. That’s the only way you become better and the way you stay successful because you’ll get caught up and passed before you know it.
“I learned some valuable lessons last year. I learned a whole new level that I didn’t know I had, which was really cool, and now I know how to reach that level mentally inside our race car to really make things happen and be a great leader for my team.”