Speak Your Mind: Outcries after Talladega over strategy and team orders

Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR
Talladega has created some hot-button topics in the NASCAR community, so the ladies of Skirts and Scuffs have decided to chime in and speak our mind on these topics. We posed these questions to our writers to gauge their responses:

Plate racing creates varying strategies: drivers riding in the back to avoid the wrecks and then the drivers who just go all out. As a Chase contender, is it OK to ride in the back to avoid "the Big One" and save yourself? The second part: we heard a lot about team orders this weekend. Share your thoughts on that.

Summer Dreyer: As much as I hate to say it, riding around in the back is one of the best options a driver can take at Talladega - as long as they don't wait too long to make their move. It's not much safer to be racing for every position for 500 miles when you can make up several seconds over two laps. There is nothing wrong with Chase drivers playing it safe, even if it makes for boring races. If they wind up suffering the consequences because of a crash or a poor finish, that's their own fault. 

As far as team orders, I didn’t see anything different this past weekend as we ever had before at Talladega. I don't think it was as much about team orders as it was working together for the fastest car and making sure your teammates have the best finish possible. Let's use the Jeff Gordon/Trevor Bayne incident as an example since that seems to be a large topic of controversy. Do you really think Gordon wouldn't have done the same thing had Jimmie Johnson or Mark Martin been without a partner in the closing laps of the race, regardless of what he'd said to Bayne? Do you think Bayne would rather answer to Jeff Gordon and apologize or possibly lose his job for not helping out a championship contending teammate who needed help? Unless working with Gordon presented a significant speed advantage over working with someone else, it would have been equally crappy of Bayne to push a Chase driver for Chevrolet past a fellow Chase Ford driver. How do you think he would feel if the championship came down to a few points between Gordon and Kenseth (or Kenseth and another driver) and it was those few points that lost him the championship? Look, Gordon has been in this situation before and he knows that that's part of the game. And he would have done the same thing had he been given the opportunity. 

Holly Strain: I believe that, yes, as a Chase contender it is just fine to run in the back for the majority of the race. Although it can happen anywhere in the field, I would be avoiding “the Big One” as well. Strategy has been a huge factor in many races this season, and it has not been questioned, so why question the strategy for Talladega?  It is a much better option for the drivers, especially the points leader, to play it safe. Even though Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle waited a bit too long, in my opinion, to make their move, Carl still got an 11th place finish; even though it’s not the win or a top 5, it’s better than a DNF. And he increased his points lead! It might make the race a bit dull, but the charge at the end can make for a very exciting finish.

I really didn’t think anything of the “team orders” this past weekend. That is exactly why they are “teammates,” they work together and help each other out.  I’m really feeling for Trevor Bayne after the whole incident; he did the right thing by helping a fellow Ford driver, and Roush Fenway teammate. 

Guaranteed, if Gordon had been pushing Bayne, and Earnhardt Jr. came up behind looking for some help, the Hendrick teammates would have “hooked up” and Bayne would have been hung out to dry. The situation would have not have near the amount of controversy and publicity, and Gordon and Earnhardt would be heroes, especially if either of them won! When there is no obvious advantage to working with a non-teammate, why wouldn’t they help out their team? Regardless of if they are friends off the track, on the track they are at work, it's business. Do you really think a hockey player would help his opponent score a goal? I don’t think so. So why should a driver help another team a win, when his teammates are vying for the same championship?

Amy McHargue: No one ever knows when or where (or if) "the Big One" will happen at Talladega. When it comes down to it, there is just as much chance the guys hanging out in the back of the pack could be caught up in it as those mid-pack. The only truly "safe" spot to be is in front with nothing but open air for viewing out the front windshield. With the advantage that two cars can pick up and the speed at which they can move form the back to the front, hanging in the back is just one strategy that teams can employ to stay out of potential trouble - but it can backfire as easily as it can be successful.

I say both what the hey, that's reasonable and the what-the-heck-were-you-thinking sides to team orders. On one hand, teams need to do what they can to help out their teammates. On the other hand, some orders just don't make sense. Why should one driver have to restart at the front and slide back to pick up his partner in 20-something-th place when there was a perfectly good option just a couple cars away?

I understand Roush race with Roush or RCR race with RCR - these guys know their teammates' driving styles, understand how to best use the situation to their advantage, and have the best chance of being successful together. If there isn't a teammate option available, I feel the drivers should not have to check with their teams for permission to hook up with a driver from another team though.

Lacy Keyser: Honest I like seeing riding in the back; to me it makes the race more exciting. Like April’s ‘Dega race, how exciting was it to see Johnson and Earnhardt Jr. all of sudden move to the front and make it a close call? I find that very exciting. As for Sunday’s race, was that even a race? I think if NASCAR takes the two-car tandem away, we won’t see as much riding in the back, but that's just my opinion. I think the two-car draft needs to go bye-bye.

Carol D'Agostino: Chase contenders riding in the back to avoid a big wreck at Talladega is a strategy much like taking two tires instead of four or not pitting at all to gain better track position. It is certainly not an unfair advantage as we saw that it worked well for Carl Edwards and not so well for Jimmie Johnson and Dale Jr. Some can argue that the start-and-park and other racing strategies don't make it as much fun for fans to watch, but I generally do not like it when NASCAR starts mucking around to create excitement when there is always plenty to be had.

Regarding team orders like only drafting only with team members, etc., although we don't always recognize it as such, racing is a team sport and team orders are nothing new. I just read a bit in Wikipedia how Dale Sr. clinched the 1993 NASCAR Winston Cup championship via a clever start-and-park tactic with Childress team member Neil Bonnett. Team owners and sponsors invest a lot in the sport and without them racing as we know it would not be possible. They have a right to create rules, policies and tactics for their teams.

Beth Bence Reinke: I think riding in the back is a strategy, just like any other tactic drivers use to try to win. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, but it doesn’t always work, and it isn’t much fun to watch your driver do it. Drafting partners Jimmie Johnson and Junior were an example of when it can backfire. They waited too long to make their move, cars wrecked, and they didn’t have enough green laps left to work their way to the front. Ouch.

Regarding team orders, I don’t like manufacturers giving “suggestions” about what drivers do on the track. In the heat of the moment, a driver shouldn’t have to weigh politics against what he needs to do to finish well. The Trevor Bayne and Jeff Gordon situation is a perfect example. Try putting yourself in Bayne’s shoes. In a split-second, you must make a choice which determines not only your own finish, but also the fate of two drivers: your childhood hero and a guy who drives the same kind of car. Will you follow through on your promise to push one guy or allow the other guy to push you - with or without a formal team order? Quick ... which would you choose?

Can you imagine the fallout if Bayne had pushed Gordon and left his Chase-contender-fellow-Ford-driver hung out to dry? The poor kid would be in worse trouble! I believe Trevor Bayne is an honest young man who wants to do what is right. But he’s taking a lot of flak for this situation and for trying to explain himself afterwards. And that’s a shame.

LJ Cloud: Racing from the back is a valid strategy, especially with the two-car draft. The driver in back can't see anything in front so that driver's race depends on his partner. At Talladega a fraction of a second can mean the difference between getting through "the Big One" and being the cause of it. It may not be the most exciting racing, but it can help keep championship contenders in the race until the end, whether they're able to vie for the win or not. Richard Childress can brag all he wants about his drivers racing the whole race, but will Harvick be able to make up the points he lost? When was the last time an RCR driver won a championship? Oh yeah. That would be 1994 with Dale Earnhardt.

Team orders - Again, the two-car draft plays a big role in this. In the old-style draft, they might have a "dance" partner lined up, but if they got on the track and the pack started to move, they went with whoever was fastest. Team loyalties didn't really matter. Now with the cars designed so uniformly, you don't see the same kind of differences in aerodynamic performance that often made it faster for a Chevy to line up with a Ford or Dodge.

With that in mind, it does make business sense for teammates to work together. I believe that regardless of what denials were issued by whom, Trevor Bayne probably didn't want to drop Jeff Gordon and a possible 2nd place finish. Maybe if he hadn't had Ford Motorcraft as a sponsor, he would have had more latitude. Still, some teammates don't or won't work together ... Jimmie Johnson has refused to work with Jeff Gordon on many occasions, and I don't think you could have gotten Dale Earnhardt to work with Mike Skinner if you'd tied their cars together.

And while the big picture, the championship, is important, I don't think it's fair to a non-Chase team and its sponsors to ask them to sacrifice their chance of winning a race, or even finishing in the top 5, to help a Chase contender. If the driver can help a teammate and not hurt his own chances of winning, that's fine. Greg Biffle stuck with Carl Edwards all race Sunday, but he had as good a chance to get to the front and finish well with Carl than he did anyone else.

It would have been interesting had it been those two drivers heading for the finish line instead of Bowyer and Burton. Would Greg have gone for the win for himself, his team, and his sponsors or would he have settled for second place to give Carl the points that come with winning? 

Amanda Ebersole: I am fine with a driver riding in the back. The name of the game is taking home the Cup at the end of the season and avoiding “the Big One” and if this is a requirement, so be it. This strategy can work against drivers - it has in the past - riding around in the back can still catch you in the wreck, but erring on the side of caution is fine with me.

As far as team orders, this is nothing new! The outcry seems to be based on who and not so much as why the teams did it, although that fact is being denied by the team owner. Just for further debate, if Rick Hendrick ordered Jimmie Johnson to push Dale Earnhardt Jr., would there be an outcry that team orders are bologna? 

Rebecca Kivak: I'll be blunt: I don't like the strategy of racing in the back. It's not a new strategy in restrictor-plate races, and I admit I was more tolerant of it in pack racing. Yes, racing in the back of the pack is a viable strategy; drivers and teams use it to stay out of wrecks, and those contending for the title will try to race conservatively, as a crash can be devastating points-wise. But with the advent of the two-car draft, we're seeing a different Talladega (and Daytona) emerge. As the two-car tangos have become the norm, we've seen in three of the four restrictor-plate races this year that the winners had been upfront most of the day. I never thought I'd see the day when track position plays into the outcome of a restrictor-plate race, but there you have it, especially if you can expect late-race cautions. I also believe that when teams "make their move" to get upfront is important. Judging by the outcomes of the recent plate races, though, teams need to make these moves sooner than they are used to to put themselves in contention for the win. As the overall strategy at these races has changed as a result of the two-car tandems, the staying-in-the-back strategy may need to be reconsidered as well.

I'd like to add: I think it's a shame to see some of the best at restrictor plate racing - and some of the best in the sport, mind you - logging laps in the back, even though I understand these teams are looking at the big picture of winning a championship.

As for team orders, I see both sides of the coin here. I would think they've always existed in the sense that you try to help your teammate or fellow manufacturer out when you can. The difference is that because of the two-car drafts, team orders are being made more public, and hence more outcry. It makes sense to help out your teammate who's competing for the title, as you look at the big picture and what would be most beneficial for your team. But in the pack drafting, drivers might have gone into a race with the understanding they'd help a teammate, but they'd end up drafting with whoever was near them. If they saw a faster line or an opening, they'd take it. Now, if you lose your teammate, I think you should be able to draft with whoever is by you, same manufacturer or not.

In another example, I don't think it's fair to direct a non-Chaser to help a Chaser win and cast aside his own ambitions of winning. Even though it makes business sense, it also carries a premeditated air that I don't like.

I feel bad for both Jeff Gordon and Trevor Bayne in regard to Sunday's race. I understand why Gordon and his fans are upset, as an agreement was made and then reneged. But I think Bayne was in an unenviable position and did what he had to do, to help a fellow Ford and a Chase contender at that, and perhaps even keep his job. I feel like he's the pawn in this game. The way I see it, the problem is not that Bayne followed orders, it's that they were given in the first place.
Speak Your Mind: Outcries after Talladega over strategy and team orders Speak Your Mind: Outcries after Talladega over strategy and team orders Reviewed by Admin on Tuesday, October 25, 2011 Rating: 5