Commentary

Not all teammates cut in the mold of Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson

The squabble between Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth wasn't the first between teammates, and it won't be the last. But it was caught on tape, writes David Newton.

Updated: October 27, 2007, 7:20 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

HAMPTON, Ga. -- Greg Biffle was so mad at former Roush Fenway Racing teammate Kurt Busch after an incident in the 2004 All-Star race in Charlotte that he said one of them had to go.

Jimmie Johnson was so mad at former Hendrick Motorsports teammate Brian Vickers after Vickers crashed him on the last lap of last year's October Talladega race that he barely spoke to him for more than two months.

Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart were so mad at each other after a run-in at Daytona in July that owner Joe Gibbs had to make a special trip to Chicago the next week to play peacemaker.

Kyle Busch was so mad at his HMS teammates after that same race that he said it was them against him the rest of the season.

Boys will be boys.

Or in this case, teammates will be teammates.

The biggest difference between what happened between Roush Fenway teammates Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth after last weekend's Nextel Cup race at Martinsville Speedway was it was caught on film.

"I don't think it is any secret that not all teammates don't get along," points leader Jeff Gordon said as he prepared for Sunday's race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. "It is hard to get guys to think the same, to have the same agendas and not tick one another off once in a while.

"We just haven't seen it flare up in the middle of an interview postrace. I think that was a little bit extreme, and that is what is going to draw the attention and get the story going. You have to think about those things before you do that."

Edwards was caught by the Speed Channel camera pushing Kenseth backward, then cocking his right arm as though he was going to hit him before walking away.

The video was posted on YouTube for the entire world to see.

That aside, such confrontations happen all the time.

Johnson certainly wanted to take a swipe at Vickers a year ago at Talladega.

"I wanted to kill him," he said. "It happens, and it doesn't matter if it's your teammate or another competitor. At some point in time, you want to get out and drill someone."

The Edwards-Kenseth soap opera has been a nice distraction from what is shaping up as a two-man race for the championship between Gordon and Johnson, who seem to be the exception rather than the rule when it comes to how teammates get along.

[+] EnlargeMatt Kenseth and Carl Edwards
AP Photo/Glenn SmithMatt Kenseth, left, and Carl Edwards during happier times.

Gordon has a 53-point lead over Johnson, the defending Cup champion. So far, their relationship has withstood the pressures that forced the tiff between Edwards and Kenseth.

"We are in such a different situation than any other guy in the garage," said Gordon, who co-owns Johnson's car with owner Rick Hendrick and has been friends with Johnson longer than they've been competitors.

Hamlin said Gordon and Johnson are the model for everyone to follow.

"They do a good job of racing hard, but still maintain the good relationship," he said. "I feel me and Tony have that relationship now, but it took an incident for that to happen.

"You're liable to see the same thing with [Edwards and Kenseth]. You're liable to see that they're probably closer after this than they were before. Sometimes it just takes them letting it all out in the air before one realizes what the other expects out of the other."

Perhaps, but for now, Kenseth isn't anxious to kiss and make up. He has refused to return phone calls from Edwards, who has said he would like to put the incident behind him and find common ground.

Kenseth said the best way for Edwards to apologize is to race him clean, or at least what his perception of clean is.

Hamlin understands. He said that first face-to-face meeting after an incident is one of the toughest things a driver will do.

"The problem is, if you let it sit so long, then you try to figure out how do we start this relationship back over again," he said. "That part of it is really tough.

"I'm sure [for Edwards and Kenseth] it's going to be driver intros or something like that -- eventually they're going to cross paths and talk to each other."

Kyle Busch, who actually was glad to see Edwards show a different side to his personality, agreed.

"It's pretty hard because you're mad at them," he said. "You want them to come to you, but yet they're mad at you so they're not going to come to you, so they want you to go to them.

"We're all a bunch of egotistic maniacs, at least that's what 'Days of Thunder' says."

Gordon and Johnson typically don't let their differences linger more than a day or two. Two days after Gordon was infuriated about the way Johnson blocked him for a win at the spring race in Martinsville, the two were playing poker together.

The key, most agree, is respect.

"You have to have a lot of respect for each other," Kurt Busch said. "You want to beat each other because you always want the best for your own team. But, if you're sitting there running 14th or 15th every week, there's still that many teams that are beating you, and you have to work together to get to the top.

"Once you get to the top and you run one and two every week, that's when things can get a little interesting."

Busch saw how that worked in 2004 en route to the title and again in 2005 when all five Roush Fenway teammates made the then-10-driver playoff.

"When you have five guys racing in the same program, it almost feels like you have to appoint the leader and who is going to be the veteran of the group and who is going to be the young guys," he said. "So it's much harder to get five to work together as it is two."

You have to remember that personalities conflict sometimes. You have to remember that.

-- Mark Martin

Roush Fenway lost two of its most veteran leaders over the past three seasons in Mark Martin and Jeff Burton. Martin was the driver who visited with teammates at their motor coaches at the track to make sure all was right. Burton was the driver who took a lead role in all in-house politics.

"You have to remember that personalities conflict sometimes," said Martin, now the senior driver at Dale Earnhardt Inc. "You have to remember that. Carl and I had conflict, and I went straight to the problem and we had to work on that.

"For harmony to exist, that's what needs to happen."

Martin and Edwards had several confrontations a few years ago. Now, Martin is Edwards' confidante, the person he goes to when he needs advice, as he sought Tuesday.

"Carl Edwards is the only guy that calls me regularly and asks me about stuff," Martin said. "So we have a good relationship. But we didn't necessarily agree or see eye to eye on a couple of things."

Martin said too much has been made of the Edwards-Kenseth clash.

"I understand it's a juicy problem and it's fun for people to read," he said. "But at the end of the day, it's not that big of a deal. It's high emotions and everybody with passion about what they're doing and a little bit of a philosophy or personality conflict that hasn't been completely sorted out.

"They won't have a devastating effect going forward, either."

NASCAR president Mike Helton said what happened with Edwards and Kenseth is no different from what happens in other sports when there are locker room squabbles.

"There's a lot of emotion and a lot of passion, and it gets played out," Helton said. "It doesn't matter if we come from two different race shops a 100 miles away or the same shop. It's all the same.

"When a driver gets in a race car, he's in his own world."

Bottom line, boys will be boys.

And teammates will be teammates.

"I kind of know what they're going through, so I wouldn't wish that on anyone," Hamlin said of Edwards and Kenseth. "A lot of times, you lose sleep over it trying to figure out how am I going to approach a guy to either say you're sorry or what you expect from him. I wouldn't wish that on anyone.

"But to me, it keeps me from reading about Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson every week."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

ALSO SEE