By MIKE HARRIS
AP Auto Racing Writer
After Kyle Busch and his older brother Kurt tangled on track and exchanged some harsh words at NASCAR’s all-star event in May, Jeff Gordon made it a point to make some time for his teammate, Kyle.
Gordon’s still willing to give the 22-year-old driver, who’s leaving Hendrick Motorsports at the end of the season to make room for Dale Earnhardt Jr., the benefit of the doubt. Even in the wake of Busch’s accusations last Saturday that his teammates didn’t work with him in the race he lost by inches at Daytona.
“I think he’s got the utmost support from me,” Gordon said Wednesday during a teleconference. “I showed him that before any of these moves happened. … Throughout this whole thing, I’ve told him, ‘Hey, I’m going to support you, race with you hard but be your teammate at the same time.’
“I plan on continuing to do that because it’s in our best interest because that (No.) 5 team is such a solid team.”
Teamwork is particularly important at Daytona, one of only two Nextel Cup tracks where NASCAR requires horsepower-sapping carburetor restrictor plates. Drivers need a partner to help them gain and keep momentum.
At the end of Saturday’s Pepsi 400, Jamie McMurray’s Roush Fenway Racing teammates helped push him to the win – by a bumper – over Busch. While Busch was racing on the low side of the banked oval, teammates Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Casey Mears chose to stay in the high groove.
“I guess I’m on the outside looking in now,” Busch said after the race. “I’m probably not going to be invited to the team meetings next week. I think bliss is over at Hendrick Motorsports for Kyle Busch. We’re getting ready for 2008.”
While recording his satellite radio show for this week, Johnson was asked about Busch’s remarks.
“I mean, dude, we’re racing, and he should know better than anyone that there’s times that work and don’t work. And he should also know and recognize that there’s times where he doesn’t necessarily do what other people want him to do, including his teammates, on the track,” Johnson said. “So it is what it is. … I mean he’s not in a good situation with the fact that he’s leaving. … It would be hard to believe that things don’t escalate as times goes on and it doesn’t become more difficult for this whole teammate situation to exist.”
But Gordon said everybody should cut Busch some slack for his outburst.
“I think that was a little bit of frustration,” the four-time Cup champion said. “I think he had such a great car and a shot at winning that race, and I think that, if he was driving my car, he would understand that I didn’t really have a great opportunity to get down there and help him as easy as it may have looked.
“My car just didn’t work good all night on the bottom groove, so I had to stay up top, and there wasn’t much I could do for him. And I will admit there were some times throughout the race where I felt like, you know, he could have helped me and I could have helped him, and it did not work out. That happens all the time in a restrictor plate race, whether it’s with a teammate or other guys out there.”
Busch also said Gordon, who finished fifth at Daytona, ignored him when he tried to talk with him after the race.
“After the race, I was doing an interview and he came by and kind of grabbed me by the shoulder and said ‘Good race,’ and I gave him a thumbs up,” Gordon explained. “I’m not exactly sure where that came from on me blowing him off, but I’m obviously a huge supporter of that 5 team, what they’re doing.”
Gordon, who leads the points, noted chemistry is important for a team’s success in any sport and, particularly, in racing.
“You don’t want anything to really get in the way of that,” he said. “If there’s rivalries that are going too far within your own organization that start to disrupt the chemistry, then that can be bad.
“It’s only in our best interests to work together and make the best of the situation,” Gordon said. “I’ve got just to guess that in the heat of moment that Kyle said some things that maybe he wished he hadn’t. But I love racing with him, and I look forward to working with him the rest of the year the best I can.”