Hendrick has to hope Kyle Busch still has 'teammates'
Kyle Busch got the cold shoulder on and off the track from his teammates at Daytona. Team owner Rick Hendrick should nip that in the bud, writes David Newton.
The reception wasn't what he expected.
"I got blown off," Busch said.
It didn't start on pit road.
It started on the track, where Busch got little help from any of his soon-to-be ex-Hendrick Motorsports teammates on a 2.5-mile track where friends are key.
That was never more evident than during the final laps, when Busch made a bold move to get the front spot on the inside lane beside eventual winner Jamie McMurray.
"There were a few opportunities to get behind me and help me, [Gordon] especially," Busch said after losing in the second-closest finish in NASCAR history. "We were running there behind him and then he got passed by [McMurray].
"We got by [Gordon] there and I ducked all the way down to the inside and was on the inside lane -- and Jeff, I think, was clear or was clear the lap later and could have came down and helped us and got three Hendrick cars in a row, but chose not to do so and chose to stay up high and help another Roush car."
But Busch, who recently became the sport's top free agent when HMS signed Dale Earnhardt Jr. to replace him in 2008, didn't know exactly what it meant to be a driver without a country until he attempted to talk to Gordon on pit road.
"I'm the outsider looking in now, and I'm probably not going to be invited into the team meetings next week, so I think bliss is over at Hendrick Motorsports for Kyle Busch," Busch said. "We'll get ready for 2008."
Now Busch knows how Brian Vickers felt last year when he announced at midseason that he would leave HMS and drive for Toyota's Team Red Bull in 2007.
Vickers eventually was banned from team meetings because HMS officials feared he might steal secrets.
Busch also knows how his brother, Kurt, felt in 2005 after announcing he would drive for Penske Racing in 2007. Busch eventually was given his release to join Penske in '06 and then kicked out of the car altogether for the final two races after a traffic incident in Phoenix.
"For Kyle, the advice I'd have is you're out there working as an individual, that Hendrick is fielding your cars and there's not much you can do to help the other guys," said Kurt, who finished third.
"So therefore you shouldn't expect much help from the other guys."
It's not that easy. Busch is eighth in points, comfortably in the championship Chase barring a major collapse over the next eight races.
He can't start looking to 2008 other than narrowing his list of five future employees -- Dale Earnhardt Inc., Richard Childress Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing, Evernham Motorsports and Chip Ganassi Racing -- to one if he hopes to compete for a title, which he insists is the priority.
And to win a championship he's likely going to need help from teammates at some point, possibly at Talladega Superspeedway during the Chase.
"I'm a race-car driver," Busch said. "I'll race just as hard with anybody else as I do with anybody, whether it's a Gibbs car, a Penske car, a Hendrick car.
"If I have to race my teammates now differently than what I used to, then I'll do it."
It's just a situation you really don't want to have to go through, but you do. We'll get through it. I'll be fine. And we'll make the most of this season and hopefully make it in the Chase and hopefully be able to challenge for the championship and beat them all out and say, 'I told you so.'
Several times during Gordon's postrace interview, he mentioned losing Mears and Johnson in the draft. He never mentioned Busch.
"I hadn't been getting much help from them all day," Busch said of his teammates. "We worked together, we got in a line, we ran around the race track, and then things started getting crazy and they went their way and I went my way."
Busch said he didn't see Hendrick drivers helping each other much the entire day.
"So more times than not Jeff had the philosophy that if I can help you and I can help the both of us progress, I'll do [it], but otherwise you're on your own," he said. "So I just was on my own all day."
Team owner Rick Hendrick has to be concerned about this. One of the strengths of the organization that has won 10 of 18 events this season and has three of the top eight drivers in points has been communication.
This can't help.
"I look at him as a teammate," said Mears, who shares the same shop with Busch. "I don't really look at him any different. I did notice it looked like he really wanted to get by everybody [at the end], but I'd definitely try to help him as a teammate, for sure."
For the sake of the organization, that'll probably be the company line across the board this week.
"It's just a situation you really don't want to have to go through, but you do," Busch said. "We'll get through it. I'll be fine. And we'll make the most of this season and hopefully make it in the Chase and hopefully be able to challenge for the championship and beat them all out and say, 'I told you so.'"
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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