Joe Gibbs Racing sent a message loud and clear Thursday: It’s our world we just let you live in it.
JGR suspended two crewmembers. From Furniture Row Racing. For facing off with a JGR crew chief, who wasn’t disciplined.
Front tire changer Chris Taylor and rear tire changer Lee Cunningham were suspended for three races for an incident during the Brickyard 400 last weekend.
On a restart on lap 111 Sunday, Furniture Row Racing driver Martin Truex Jr. dove to the inside of JGR driver Kyle Busch entering turn 1; he got loose and slid up into Busch ending the day for both as the Toyota of Truex engulfed in flames slid to a stop at the exit of turn 2.
“We worked well together and that’s the hard part about this stuff is when it’s time to go,” Truex said.
“I feel awful and just made a mistake. Definitely should have picked the outside and it would have been fine I guess. Just the way it goes… We had an awesome car today and we got out front, I don’t think they were going to be able to beat us. A mistake on my part took us out of it, but we’ll get them next week.”
Most agree that Busch was the dominant driver Sunday, he led a race high 87 laps up to that point, and Truex seemed to be the only driver to have a chance of spoiling Busch’s party.
Needless to say not only were the drivers unhappy, but the crews as well. When Busch’s crew chief Adam Stevens was walking past the pit box of the Furniture Row Racing team, he was allegedly taunted by the crewmembers. A shoving match ensued, but no fists flew and soon all were walking away.
But that obviously wasn’t the end of it. Thursday JGR suspended the two crewmembers.
And that is the wrong thing to do.
This isn’t the first time JGR team, through its sponsor, has sanctioned someone. In 2002, Tony Stewart, at the time racing for JGR, was fined by sponsor Home Depot for an altercation at, ironically, Indianapolis.
That fine was probably pocket change to the three-time champion.
Thursday’s team action goes far beyond that however.
Furniture Row has an alliance with JGR that includes JGR providing crew members for the Denver based team. This alliance, obviously, allows JGR to do what they did Thursday.
But that doesn’t make it right.
Truex is one of the hottest drivers on the NASCAR circuit right now. He has three wins this season, and like Sunday until lap 111, has been in contention almost every race.
Kyle Busch, the 2015 Cup champion, is as cold as ice. He has finished second twice this season, but is currently in the midst of his longest Cup losing streak.
Truex meanwhile has been running well, is leading the points, and his three wins have been helped by flawless pit stops from his JGR supplied crew.
Now that crew will be down two men for the next three races, hampered by nothing more than a shouting match; an emotional display that NASCAR sorely needs. An incident where no punches were thrown, and something that gained the sport some much needed attention.
What people will be talking about now, though, is the performance advantage that JGR might have in the next three races while Furniture Row is using substitute crew members. Whether real, or perceived.
One mistake in the pits by the crew of Truex in the next three races, will be amplified by the fact that they are down two crewmembers. And should a JGR driver, particularly Kyle Busch, win, well crank the volume knob up to 11.
Whoever suggested the suspension at JGR, and those who signed on, didn’t think it through. It will be perceived as an attempt at a performance advantage by the team. This on top of telling crews that emotions aren’t welcome, when in fact NASCAR needs those displays to keep the sport in the news, and keep fans buzzing.
No one knows what will happen in the next three races; but there is a pretty good chance that history will show that JGR made the wrong decision. Call the crewmembers on the carpet, chew them out, slap them on the wrist, but suspending them was the wrong thing to do.
Any win by the JGR teams in the next three races, especially if there is a pit road mistake by the Truex crew, will be, and should be, looked at with a skeptical eye. Because the advantage they gained came away from the race track, and that is just wrong.