CRANDALL: Manufacturer alliances are getting ugly

Image by Thacker/LAT

CRANDALL: Manufacturer alliances are getting ugly

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CRANDALL: Manufacturer alliances are getting ugly

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A rain delay after Stage 1 of the NASCAR Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway brought a pause in the action and a chance for Team Chevy to huddle back up. While there are no timeouts in auto racing, the manufacturer was gifted one Sunday afternoon, and it didn’t go to waste.

Following 55 laps where there seemed to be too much competition and not enough single-file teamwork, it appeared Chevrolet officials wanted to reiterate a message. A message about teamwork. A message about the importance of one for all, and all for one. The message of making sure Chevy drivers stuck together, took care of their playoff contenders, and made sure a Bowtie ended up in victory lane.

Multiple drivers, crew chiefs, and team personnel gathered in a meeting room inside the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series garage. What exactly was said will likely not be repeated on the record. Drivers who were later interviewed on NBCSN and asked about it were in sync, delivering robotic answers about the new Corvette. If one had to guess what took place though, this probably wouldn’t be too far off.

Great job William Byron winning Stage 1, but what were the rest of you thinking getting all competitive?

What part of strength in numbers was misunderstood?

Thou shall not race your manufacturer teammate. Get in line, stay in line.

A little dramatic? Perhaps. Although such a scenario is exactly where we’re at, considering how prominent manufacturer alliances at the superspeedway races have become.

In the 2016 Daytona 500 it was the Toyota teams showing that sticking together could pay off: they worked together all day, and inside the final 10 laps were running first, second, third, fourth, and fifth. They ended up finishing one, two, three.

Teamwork paid off for Toyota at Daytona in 2016. Image by Whitton/LAT

Last fall, Stewart-Haas Racing elevated teamwork to another level when they took the field to the woodshed at the fall Talladega race. Not only did they qualify first through fourth, they ran nose-to-tail all day, pulling away from the field and led 155 of 193 laps for an eventual 1-2 at the finish. Earlier this year, the Chevy teams were the class of the field with how they controlled things at Talladega.

So none of what took place this past weekend is new. But what made Sunday’s impromptu meeting even more interesting – and a bit infuriating to onlookers – is how insistent Chevrolet officials are that their drivers work together.

To reiterate, Toyota and Ford’s drivers have also been working together for the betterment of everyone. Chevrolet is the last to get this figured out. But if Ford and Toyota were going to the same lengths to ensure cooperation, they did one hell of a job keeping it quiet.

Seeing a flood of Chevrolet teams enter and leave a meeting, not talk about it, while four weekends of the year are dominated by conversation about manufacturer alliances, isn’t a good look. And that’s really what this is about – not manufacturer teammates working together, but the optics.

You know what it looks like when it becomes get in line, stay in line or else? Team orders. NASCAR has always prided itself on not having such a thing. Race your teammates hard, race them clean but race for your team and your sponsor. Anything that appears to smell differently is not going to be accepted, which is where we were at Talladega.

Dale Jarrett and Kyle Petty added fuel to the fire from the NBCSN broadcast. Both were in agreement that drivers working together isn’t a problem, it’s the understanding there will be consequences if they don’t (whispers of which were also around following the ‘Dega spring race) that have no place in racing.

Again, none of this manufacturer alliance stuff is new nor, was anyone doing anything wrong. But Team Chevy gave this a new look, and it wasn’t a good one.

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