On one hand, teammates benefit from all the financial resources, personnel and R&D that comes with working out of the same garage.
But once in the car and out on the track, they’re all racing for the same checkered flag, and there’s only one parking space in Victory Lane. And that can create a whole explosive set of dynamics.
The Richard Childress stable, with three drivers in the 12-man Chase, has seen it from both sides just in the last two weeks.
Kevin Harvick, the best positioned of the RCR drivers only 62 points off Jimmie Johnson’s lead and a demon in recent restrictor-plate superspeedway races, swapped pit crews with Clint Bowyer right before Martinsville in a move designed to provide him the best possible support for the championship.
Then, in that same race, Harvick and Jeff Burton had a very public dustup when Harvick went for a sideswipe during a caution in retaliation for his belief that his teammate cut him off earlier in the race. Burton made his displeasure known over the radio for all to hear.
What’s NASCAR if not a 200-mph soap opera?
“Everybody on the racetrack is a competitive person,” Burton said. “The best way I can describe it is RCR is like a family. Sometimes families argue among themselves and you probably carry on with your family more than people you don’t even know. That’s probably what happened with us last week.
“Being teammates is hard. You always expect more out of your teammate. You’re trying to be a good teammate, but you’re also trying to beat your teammate. It’s very, very difficult. I’m surprised we don’t have more incidents to be quite honest.”
The two drivers met Tuesday to resolve the conflict. Both said in some fashion Friday they could have handled the situation on the track better and now they’re back at the adult’s table.
When it comes to providing help, with Harvick complaining about his pit crew’s performance much of the season — complaints that have intensified in recent weeks — RCR swapped his crew with that of Clint Bowyer, who is now 12th in the Chase.
Think of it not so much as the Falcons substituting one offensive or defensive line for another, but trading to the Panthers for an entire unit en masse.
“You have guys that are performing better than others right now on pit road, and those guys happen to be the group off the 33 car,” Harvick said.
Most of Bowyer’s crew, including the tire changers and tire carriers, moved to Harvick’s car. The respective crew chiefs were not a part of the swap. Bowyer said he hoped he would get his crew back if Harvick fell out of contention.
“For us right now, as a team, everybody wants to win,” Harvick said. “I think with Clint and the Cheerios’ team move to help us out with the pit crew showed how badly they want the whole company to win.
“I think Jeff is the same way. He wants to win a race, but everybody wants to do the best they can, but we want to win the championship, too. They’re going to do whatever they can do to help us and I don’t think there’s any question about that.”
Bowyer initially appeared to question the move, intimating it was almost like Harvick turned his back on the crew he had, but he has since become a good soldier.
“We’re trying everything we can do to win a championship at RCR,” he said.
Whether that translates to help on the track with the race on the line remains to be seen.
Harvick would appear to have the best shot at winning. Besides his position in the points standings, he won here in the spring and at Daytona in July. He was seventh in the Daytona 500.
But, Burton said, there’s been “zero discussion” about hooking up to get Harvick to the checkered flag.
Actually, he makes it sound like the approach is clearly understood throughout RCR.
“If you’re in a position to help your teammate, you go help him,” he said. “But you don’t do that if it hurts you. That’s kind of the way it has to be.
“When you have a situation with a teammate, the last place you want to go is Talladega the week after because teammates always get their feelings hurt here. But the reality of it is — and I think we handle it really well — is if a teammate can help me, I want him to help me. But I don’t want him to help me if it’s going to hurt them. It’s not fair to them and by the way I don’t want to help them if it’s going to hurt me either.
“This is still racing. We are RCR, but at the same time we still have to go and do the very best we can for each individual team. If we don’t do that then I think we’ll really mess with the credibility of the sport.”
Johnson feels the same way. He wouldn’t expect one of his teammates to dive on the sword for him if they were in the hunt coming down the stretch.
“I would think if they’re up there racing for the win, I would expect about my teammates to be thinking about winning for their own reasons,” he said. “If they are fighting for the win, they shouldn’t be thinking about where the 48 is.”
Al Muskewitz is a sports writer for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.