By Toby Christie (Originally appeared on RubbingsRacing.com)
Just as we all started to believe that Joe Gibbs Racing had finally caught (maybe even passed) Hendrick Motorsports, enter the All-Star race to throw that whole notion off it’s axis.
Jimmie Johnson was undoubtedly the car to beat on the evening as he easily swept the second and third segments of the event, and all that was left was the final 10 laps. However on a late pit stop Johnson lost the lead, which put the race in the hands of Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch.
On the final restart Busch had closed the gap on Hamlin with just a few precious laps left, when he made a move to the outside. Hamlin countered by moving high himself, this ran Kyle Busch out of room and into the wall. The contact was severe and effectively ended Busch’s chances at the win.
“You better keep me away from Hamlin when this race is over, I’m going to kill that mother (expletive). I had this race won, won!” Busch yelled to his crew in frustration.
Busch would subsequently park his battered car right in front of Hamlin’s hauler to wait for the end of the race.
Despite running his teammate out of room for the win, Hamlin faded down the stretch and failed to take home the million dollar bonus as well. Kurt Busch went on to win and would soak up the spoils of victory, while Hamlin and Kyle Busch remained in the No. 11 hauler for a 25-or-so-minute conversation with team owner Joe Gibbs.
What was discussed during that conversation? What did “the coach” tell his young drivers? We will never know for sure, but you have to believe the flies on the wall heard Gibbs emphasize the importance of teamwork, especially if they want any chance of overthrowing Hendrick Motorsports as NASCAR’s biggest super power.
Following the meeting Kyle Busch declined interviews, but Denny Hamlin was more than happy to address the situation with the media.
“I told him my job as the leader is to do anything I can to win that race.” Hamlin said.
“I felt like if Kyle would have had position on the outside, then I definitely would have given him the lane.” Hamlin continued, “But I basically just took the air off. And like he said up there (in the meeting), he was just dumb and didn’t check up. It’s just one of those things.”
“This can happen and it can happen again. You’ve got good cars. You’ve got good drivers. It can happen between teammates because they’re competitive and both of them are wanting to win a race. We love that in both guys.” Joe Gibbs explained.
He must love that his drivers want to win, but he can’t love that the distinct mental advantage his team had built over the field is effectively washed away. Before this race his teams appeared that they could do no wrong, in fact it was beginning to look as though they couldn’t lose… Leave it to the All-Star Race to bring friction to a team.
In my opinion Joe Gibbs Racing lost their edge Saturday night when their two heated drivers got into it. Now the question is will they be able to put it to rest this weekend or will it be an ongoing feud? If they can’t get this situation nipped in the bud, then this non-points race, could very well play a crucial role in the 2010 points picture.
Regardless you know this has Rick Hendrick and his teams licking their chops.