By Toby Christie (Originally appeared on RubbingsRacing.com)
Last Sunday during the Amp Energy Juice 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, Denny Hamlin lost the draft and looked like a man who had lost his shot at the championship in the process.
He drifted further and further back, and his team was searching for a teammate to drop back and help him out of the terrible situation he found himself in. Immediately fans on Twitter vented. They said things such as “This isn’t that crappy F1, this is NASCAR,” obviously in reference to even the slightest inkling of team orders.
Nobody came to Hamlin’s rescue and he would indeed fall a lap off the pace. Hamlin would get his lap back using the free pass on lap 141. As a result the issue was gone as he didn’t take advantage of any “team orders”.
Yet there was a different case of possible team orders that may have been swept completely under the rug Sunday after all of the events that transpired in the crazy finish on Halloween.
Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson hung near the back of the pack all day long, biding their time for the final shootout.
Their strategy may have been genius as there was frantic racing all day long, which resulted in 87 total lead changes on the day (just one shy of the record 88 set earlier this year). At anytime they along with 41 others could have been swept up in ‘The Big One’.
With just 15 laps remaining in the event it was go time, and the two began to plow their way through the field like Ricky Bobby and Cal Naughton Jr. in Talladega Nights.
Just four laps later Jeff Gordon had made it to the lead, with Jimmie Johnson right in tow… when all of a sudden Gordon radioed a disheartening sentence over his radio. “We’re blowing up,” Gordon would tell crew chief Steve Letarte.
Gordon would pull out of line, which would hand the lead to Johnson, who is in search of his fifth consecutive Sprint Cup Series title.
As we all know Jeff Gordon’s engine would magically hold together for the final ferocious run of the day, and in fact it was Gordon who came home in eighth just one spot behind Johnson when the race was all said and done.
The only thing I was left wondering after possibly the most exciting race of the year was: Were the ‘engine issues’ that Gordon suffered on lap 177 team orders? Or did Gordon somehow, someway dig deep to nurse his motor to the finish, while still finding enough speed to edge ahead of his teammate’s closest competitor in the Chase (Denny Hamlin) as the field was frozen on the final lap?