Radio communication shows that late in Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway, a directive was given for Erik Jones not to pass teammate Denny Hamlin as Hamlin hovered near the cutline to advance to the championship race. A Joe Gibbs Racing official said Monday that “we don’t have team orders.”
Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said Monday morning on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that series officials would review the radio communication by Jones’ team in the final laps of the race.
With 15 laps to go Sunday, Hamlin was 12th and Jones was 13th. At that point, Hamlin was one point ahead of Brad Keselowski, who held the final transfer spot to the title race. Hamlin was two points ahead of Kevin Harvick, the first driver outside the cutoff.
Crew chief Chris Gayle said on the No. 20 team’s radio to Jones: “(Hamlin is) going to race you hard because he needs to, because it’s within like three points for those guys. He’s going to race you hard because it’s three points on those guys. Just so you’re aware.”
Jones responded: “I’ve got a huge gap behind me.”
About 80 seconds later, on the No. 20 team’s radio channel, spotter Rick Carelli said: “Don’t pass him, Jones. Stay with him and drive what you can.”
Hamlin finished 11th and advanced to the Championship 4. He finished nine points ahead of Harvick, who wrecked Kyle Busch on the final lap trying to get by him. Harvick lost seven spots before he crossed the finish line, costing him seven points on Hamlin and Keselowski.
Jones finished 12th, a spot behind Hamlin.
After the race, Jones said on the team’s radio channel: “Good car, Chris (Gayle). I don’t have much to say to you about the end. I’ll talk to you when I get in there.”
Gayle responded: “Yep. Exactly.”
Wally Brown, competition director for Joe Gibbs Racing, said Monday that “we don’t have team orders.
“It’s just not the way we race. If you listen to that whole transcript, there was a lot of talk about point implications across the board from multiple teams. Let’s face it, at that point in time, Denny was not going to let him around. They probably would have crashed if they would have tried to. If he would have tried to make a pass, he probably would have crashed both of them, no different than the last-lap effort (by Kevin Harvick in wrecking Kyle Busch).
“The stakes are high. You’re not going to give up those spots, you’re going to do everything you can. That’s the way I look at it.”
NASCAR on NBC analyst Dale Jarrett said on Splash & Go that he is bothered by such radio communication that was on Jones’ channel.
“I don’t like team orders,” Jarrett said. “Never took any to where I did anything like that and don’t understand a competitor doing something like that. Now if that man is my best friend, I probably would have known the situation and known that, but I don’t think this is a situation with that. On the other side of it, being told to do that, I don’t like that.
“But it is a part of things in this day and time when you have multi-car teams and organizations like that, that those things are going to happen, but I still don’t have to like it personally. I think if you’re going to go race for a championship you should be good enough without having the help from someone else along the way.”
Section 7.5 in the Cup Rule Book lists the performance obligation competitors have. It reads:
- NASCAR requires its Competitor(s) to race at 100% of their ability with the goal of achieving their best possible finishing position in the Events.
- Any Competitor(s) who takes action with the intent to Artificially Alter the finishing positions of the Event or encourages, persuades, or induces others to Artificially Alter the finishing positions of the Event shall be subject to a penalty from NASCAR, as specified in Section 12 Violations and Disciplinary Action.
- “Artificially Alter” shall be defined as actions by any Competitor(s) that show or suggest that the Competitor(s) did not race at 100% of their ability for the purpose of changing finishing positions in the Event, in NASCAR’s sole discretion.
In 2016, NASCAR cleared Joe Gibbs Racing of violating the rule when three of its cars ran at the back for most of the Talladega playoff race. NASCAR cited that as a race strategy.
Steve O’Donnell, executive vice president and chief racing development officer, explained in 2016 on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio what the rule meant, saying: “The spirit of that rule is really to prevent somebody from intentionally allowing another teammate to do something that would not be in the spirit of the rules of the race.”
Kyle Busch, who was among those who ran at the back much of the race, tweeted the day after that race four years ago: “Don’t hate the player … Hate the game.”
Nate Ryan contributed to this story.