It was a sweet ending to what had been a pretty sour interaction.
This was back in late April, shortly after Sprint Cup driver Carl Edwards bumped Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch in Richmond to win the Toyota Owners 400.
Edwards didn’t wreck Busch, but second-place Busch likely would have won that race had Edwards not made contact. This tactic is pretty common in stock-car racing, but everything was a bit more complicated because Edwards and Busch are teammates. Hurt feelings and tension had to be resolved.
“We somewhat made peace over chocolate,” Edwards, the defending Coca-Cola 600 winner, described Thursday of that sit-down with Busch.
M&M Mars is a major sponsor of Busch’s team and the candy company has a tradition of sending a gift pack of chocolates to the winner of each Sprint Cup race. So when Edwards noticed the gift pack in the JGR race shop, he walked it over to Busch as a way to lighten the mood.
“Richmond, we pushed it right to the limit against a teammate,” Edwards recalled.
“If you win a race, Mars sends you a really neat box of chocolates. Kyle and I got together at the shop and had a meeting. It was a pretty tough meeting, but we left on decent enough terms.
“So the box says, ‘Congratulations on winning the Toyota 400 from Mars.’ I don’t know if they would have stopped it (because of the controversy), but I thought it was really cool, so I walked across the shop and asked (Busch) to sign it.
“We put a picture on Twitter, and I thought that was pretty cool.”
There’s been so much cool about what Edwards, Busch and the rest of JGR have done of late. Edwards is the defending champion in Concord, and considers his victory last May in the 600 the most significant of his career. He’s won two races this season, and has five top-5 finishes and eight top-10s.
Busch, the defending Sprint Cup champion, has three victories this season and nine top-five finishes. But Charlotte is one of just two Sprint Cup tracks where he’s never won, along with Pocono (Busch hasn’t failed to compete in Concord – he has 10 top-five finishes).
It was important Edwards and Busch talked things out post-Richmond; one of the major strengths at JGR is a sense of camaraderie – as in Gibbs Racing, Toyota and Furniture Row Racing (another Toyota team with an alliance to JGR) all feeling comfortable and collaborative.
“There’s no line of delineation (between teams, Toyota or the individual cars). No line between where JGR stops and (Toyota) starts,” Edwards said. “Sometimes back at the truck, I’m not sure who works for whom because it’s just one team.”
Is that uncommon in NASCAR?
“I don’t know if it’s uncommon to try to achieve,” Edwards replied. “But that’s hard to achieve in any business setting, any competitive setting. It’s hard to have two businesses (with complementary goals) and not have egos. I have not seen any of that.
“It’s not like when (Toyota) leaves the room (the JGR people) say, ‘Oh, now we can really talk!’ ”
David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, said this cooperation shows up in a variety of ways: It’s Denny Hamlin sharing his short-track expertise. It’s Busch doing the same at intermediate tracks. It’s Martin Truex Jr.’s crew chief sharing his set-up sheet at a track that’s been particularly problematic for other teams in the group.
Jeopardizing such synergy would hurt everyone. So Edwards and Busch learned to forgive and forget. At least forgive; Busch might not forget that bump for a while.
They’re not alone in that way. Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski are Team Penske teammates driving Fords and also among the most competitive and successful drivers in Sprint Cup.
Logano said it’s a learning curve when elite drivers have to balance teamwork and individual success. He thinks he and Keselowski are pretty good at that now after twice finishing first-and-second in the same race.
“The ultimate goal is racing each other for the win. In that situation, it’s very hard to understand what is acceptable and what is not,” Logano described.
“Brad and I, I think we know each other well enough to know what’s acceptable and what is not. Sometimes it’s the big picture. That’s not to say we’re not going to race each other for the win. But we’re not going to crash each other.
“What is that line? It could be different for each team. Completely different … There are lines in the sand; that’s up for negotiation and can change a lot.”
So keep a box of chocolate around the race shop, just in case.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell