It looks like Sunday’s bang-bang finish at Richmond International Raceway will put a supreme test to team owner Joe Gibbs’ leadership skills.
“You wish it wouldn’t happen,” Gibbs said of Carl Edwards’ victory in the Toyota Owners 400, in which Edwards bumped Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch out of the way on the final turn of the final lap. “But at the same time you know it can happen. It’s one of those things we’re going to have to work our way through.”
Then Gibbs, a three-time Super Bowl winning coach with Washington, added: “There’s no game plan for it.”
Yes, the Tuesday morning team meeting at JGR’s Huntersville headquarters could be interesting. It will feature the perpetually upbeat Edwards, who won for a second consecutive week on Sunday, and Busch, whose dour post-race demeanor indicated he was none too happy about his teammate’s tactics.
In fact, Busch channeled his inner Marshawn Lynch when answering reporters’ questions after the race:
Reporter: “Did you have any expectations that (Edwards) was going to make contact with you for the win?”
Busch: “Our Banfield Camry was real awesome today. We had a great race car. My guys made some awesome adjustments to it. It was really good for us to have an opportunity to run and race for the win like that.”
Reporter: “Carl said maybe he felt a little bit differently about it because you both had wins, because you both were already in the Chase. Do you feel like these races are different with both of you holding a win?”
Busch: “My guys give me great race cars each and every week. We continue to have fast Camrys. We’ll be continuing to run up front and race for wins.”
Perhaps Busch will have cooled off by the time Tuesday rolls around.
“We can talk about the relations with the (Busch team),” said Dave Rogers, Edwards’ crew chief. “(Busch crew chief) Adam (Stevens) and I are great friends. Kyle and I are great friends. So I’m not worried about any relations. If we look at the big picture, (Sunday) was a great day for NASCAR. Our fans don’t want to see teammate orders. They don’t deserve (seeing) teammates to fall in line. They deserve good, hard racing. It stinks that we had to move a teammate.
“I’m sure Adam and I will talk about it, and Carl and Kyle will talk about it. But I think it would be very disappointing to our fans if Joe imposed a team order and told us, ‘Hey, have a parade instead of a race.’ ”
Busch led 35 of the race’s final 36 laps. He had taken the lead with a strong pit stop after a Brian Scott spinout caused a caution on Lap 359.
Edwards started alongside Busch on the restart, but Busch’s Toyota jumped out to a lead that grew to 1.5 seconds as the race wound down. But Edwards kept grinding behind Busch. And when he got a motivational message over the radio from Rogers (neither Edwards nor Rogers could remember what Rogers specifically said) with one lap remaining, Edwards closed in.
“Man, I’m going to dive down here into Turn 1 really hard, and hope I can get down there,” Edwards thought. “Maybe something will happen.”
Something did. Edwards noticed Busch’s car had slowed enough that Edwards would have to do something. With only about 200 yards remaining to the finish line on the .75-mile track, Busch would likely try to block him if he tried to pass, so instead Edwards tapped him.
“There’s no time to consider much,” Edwards said. “I was just head down driving as hard as I possibly could. You’re left as a race-car driver (thinking), ‘What do we do here? We’re here to win the race.’ You can either finish first or second. It’s a tough decision.”
Busch’s car wobbled out of the way and Edwards whipped past.
“It is a tough thing,” Edwards said. “The double-edged sword of having great teammates is sometimes you have to race like that.”
Two other teammates – Hendrick Motorsports’ Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne – finished third and fourth, respectively, with Kevin Harvick fifth and JGR’s Denny Hamlin sixth.
Edwards said he’s not sure how he will approach Busch about what happened.
“We just talk about it,” Edwards said. “That’s it. I can say this. My teammates have been spectacular. They truly have been. Not just helping with things we need help, but from a motivational standpoint. We’re going to have times like this when you’re running like this. We’re racing each other for wins, which is really, really good. So hopefully it all works out fine.”
Rogers said Busch might be in position to knock Edwards out of the way to win in a future race.
“We’ll go down to Victory Lane, shake their hands, tell them, good job,” Rogers said. “That’s just a testament to Joe Gibbs Racing, allowing us to put ourselves in that position.”
Edwards emphasized that he and Busch (who has two victories this season) have already essentially clinched spots in the postseason Chase, so there was nothing at stake except for the pure essence of winning.
“At this point in the season, we’ve both got wins,” said Edwards. “Really it’s about just going out for trophies and having fun. We still finished first and second. Nobody got wrecked.”
Busch may or may not agree with those sentiments.
“It’s just racing, I guess,” he said.