DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) – One team failed to work together. Another one basically fell apart. In the end, Jack Roush’s guys reminded everyone how it’s supposed to be done.
Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth helped teammate Jamie McMurray end one of the longest winless streaks in NASCAR history by blocking, drafting and using better communication than their rivals.
McMurray won for the first time in 166 races when he beat Kyle Busch by a bumper Saturday night in the Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway, and immediately gave an assist to his Roush Fenway Racing teammates.
“Matt pushed me with 40 laps to go for about 15 laps, and he came on my radio during one of the breaks and was like “Look, I’ve got to run high and I’ll help you all I can,’ ” McMurray said. “Carl helped me win the race. He shoved me in and probably could have made it three wide, but he pushed me to the win.”
Biffle was right there, too, and both he and Edwards opted to push their partner instead of splitting up and chasing an individual victory.
“I was pushing (Busch) and then Greg was pushing Jamie and a gap opened up, and I thought, “Well, three Roush cars are better than two,”‘ Edwards said. “I thought about going around and going to the outside, but I thought “No, I’d be a lot better off just pushing him.’ He was in a position to win.”
The end result was four Roush cars in the top eight – and rookie David Ragan came in at 12th – a successful showing of teamwork that was a stark contrast to how at least two other top teams operated.
Busch lost a dramatic drag race to the finish line because of an apparent lack of help from his Hendrick Motorsports teammates. And Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin were never in contention after the Joe Gibbs Racing drivers wrecked each other 14 laps into the race.
The Gibbs drivers blamed each other, and Busch exposed a disconnect from an organization that preaches the total team concept.
Roush, the winning car owner, said those kind of issues would never fly in his organization.
“A driver can be a problem for his teammate or a problem for NASCAR or a problem for me,” said Roush, “but he won’t stay long.”
That’s part of the problem at Hendrick, where Busch is only scheduled to finish out this year. He’s moving on as the team makes room for Dale Earnhardt Jr., and his lame duck status has apparently ostracized him from Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Casey Mears.
All three worked together in the closing laps, taking turns hooking up on the high line, while Busch was on his own to chase down the leader at the bottom of the track. The only help he received was from his older brother, Kurt, who finished third and then counseled his sibling to accept the circumstances.
“For Kyle, the advice I’d have is you are out there working as an individual, that Hendrick is fielding your cars and there’s not much you can do to help the other guys,” Kurt Busch said. “Therefore, you shouldn’t expect much help from the other guys.”
Kyle Busch said there never was any, and said he was rebuffed by Gordon on pit road after the race.
“I guess I’m on the outside looking in now,” Busch said. “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.”
Stewart and Hamlin probably won’t be sitting down for any meetings anytime soon.
The two differed wildly on who was to blame for the accident that knocked both out of contention while they were running first and second. Stewart, the two-time defending race winner, was following Hamlin when he ran into the back of him to send both cars careening into the wall.
Stewart said Hamlin “came to a stop in front of us” to cap a weekend in which he claimed the younger driver also tried to wreck him during a practice session.
“He just wrecked two really good race cars. He tried to wreck us in practice on Friday and didn’t get it done. At least he finished it off,” Stewart said. “He’s a young guy and he wants to be successful, but I don’t know if he knows what the definition of team is right now.”
Hamlin didn’t want to debate the two-time series champion.
“If he wants to blame it on me, I’ll be the bigger man and take responsibility for it,” Hamlin said. “He’s been around this sport longer than I have and he probably knows more than I do, so I’ll just take it for what it’s worth.”
It left Gibbs playing peacemaker, shifting back and forth between garage stalls as his star drivers avoided each other.
“They are good teammates, they run extremely well together, and I think that’s just part of being teammates,” Gibbs said. “Sometimes you are running up front and sometimes it happens to two guys running on the same team. You hate it.”
McMurray never worried about his teammates being too aggressive or leaving him behind. He knew when push came to shove, and the win was on the line, they’d be there for him.
“I had Carl and Greg and Matt … I thought, “If I do get hung out, one of these guys will come up and save me,” he said.
Turned out, all three of them did.