The two Red Bull Racing teammates hurtled down the frontstretch at 180 mph midway through the 400-mile Sprint Cup race on Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, running close together in the back of the pack. But as Casey Mears and Scott Speed blew into Turn 1 battling for 29th position, Mears committed the cardinal sin of teammate interaction: He wrecked Speed. "Are you f------ kidding me?" Speed yelled over the radio after Mears banged into the left side of Speed's number 82 Toyota to send him sliding sideways through the corner. "We're running in the very back of the pack like crap and we're going to wreck each other. Really?"
Fifteen races into 2010 two story lines are dominating the Sprint Cup series: Denny Hamlin's breakaway speed (box) and teammates feuding with teammates. Early in the season Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon—buddies off the track, Hendrick Motorsports teammates on the track—had a public falling-out after they collided at Texas on April 19 and then, a week later at Talladega, exchanged words again after Johnson blocked Gordon. But their frayed relationship (which the two men say has since been mended) was nothing compared with the meltdown between Hamlin and Kyle Busch, who both drive for Joe Gibbs Racing. After Hamlin forced Busch into the wall at Charlotte last month, Busch, incensed, announced that he wanted to "kill" Hamlin. The two are still frosty toward each other—as are Kasey Kahne and A.J. Allmendinger. Kahne is in no hurry to forgive his Richard Petty Motorsports teammate for blocking him on the final lap at Pocono on June 6, a move that caused Kahne to lose control and crash heavily into the wall, triggering a pileup.
All this teammate turmoil raises the question, What exactly is the role of a teammate in NASCAR? When owner Rick Hendrick pioneered the concept of the multicar team in the mid-1980s, he instituted a rule for his drivers that is now followed by every team in the sport: No matter how you feel personally about your teammate, you must share every bit of information—from setup data to racing lines around the track—with every other driver on your team. But Hendrick, like all owners, issues only one on-track commandment to his drivers: Thou shalt not wreck each other. Other than that, anything goes once the engines fire. "I don't really believe in the label of teammates when you're out there racing, but I'll try to cut him some slack when I can," Hamlin says, echoing the common sentiment in the garage. "I'm there to win, not help someone else win. There are just times when you've got to race your teammate hard, which is what you're seeing a lot of this season."
One of those times, though, is certainly not when you're running in 29th position on Lap 99 of a 200-lap race. After Speed climbed out of his Toyota on Sunday afternoon in Michigan, he looked at his beat-up Toyota, shook his head and then gazed over at Mears's car parked nearby. "Idiot," said Speed, who finished a lap down in 28th (Mears wound up 36th), as he wiped sweat off his face with a towel. "Need to check his IQ level." (Mears did not respond.)
Speed then walked away. He didn't plan on speaking to his teammate anytime soon.
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SAM GREENWOOD/GETTY IMAGES (CARS)
CHECKED MATES Mears (83 and top) sent Speed (silver car and bottom) spinning—and fuming—at Michigan.
NIGEL KINRADE/AUTOSTOCK (MEARS, SPEED)
[See caption above]
JASON SMITH/GETTY IMAGES FOR NASCAR (HAMLIN)
On Sunday at Michigan, for the fifth time in the last 10 Sprint Cup races, Denny Hamlin(below) took the checkered flag. How impressive was his performance? He led 123 of the 200 laps and with 19 laps to go was more than 10 seconds ahead of the second-place car driven by Kasey Kahne—a country mile in NASCAR. Hamlin currently sits third in the standings, 47 points behind leader Kevin Harvick. What's scary for the rest of the field is this: In the shop at Joe Gibbs Racing in Charlotte, Hamlin and his crew chief, Mike Ford, have a fleet of newly built Camrys, which they'll unveil in the Chase, that they swear are faster than the cars Hamlin has been piloting during this impressive stretch. Said Hamlin on Sunday, "We're not going to get complacent."