- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 12, 2009

RICHMOND | Should Carl Edwards be in position to help teammates Greg Biffle or Matt Kenseth make the Chase for the Sprint Cup, he said Friday he would do it without a second thought.

Even if it means sacrificing a win in Saturday night’s Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond International Raceway.

“If that’s what it took and that’s what had to happen, then that’s what I would do,” Edwards said.

It’s called “team orders,” and it’s the ultimate sacrifice in racing. Aside from occasionally allowing a teammate to lead a lap to gain five bonus points, the practice isn’t common in NASCAR.

One of the most blatant examples was in Formula One in 2002, when Ferrari ordered Rubens Barrichello to let teammate Michael Schumacher win the Austrian Grand Prix. As payback later that season, Schumacher slowed at the end of the U.S. Grand Prix to let Barrichello prevail.

Last week at the NHRA U.S. Nationals, John Force was accused of deliberately losing his semifinal so Robert Hight, his teammate and son-in-law, could advance to the playoffs. Force’s loss knocked defending Funny Car champion Cruz Pedregon out of contention.

“It sounds like it was a heated battle, and evidently Force tried to throw the race,” said three-time defending NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, who spoke to Pedregon about the incident Wednesday.

The NHRA incident created a buzz of scenarios Friday at Richmond, where 11 drivers will race for eight available Chase spots Saturday night. Only Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Johnson and Denny Hamlin are locked into the 12-driver Chase, and a mere 113 points separate sixth-place Kasey Kahne from 14th-place Kyle Busch.

It means the slightest setback could cost a driver a spot in NASCAR’s showcase, so teams are doing some serious strategizing to figure out what they’ve got to do to get their driver into the Chase.

Juan Pablo Montoya, ranked eighth, is all alone in his quest to make his first Chase. He has no teammates in contention; as a former Formula One driver, he is all too aware of the consequences that can come from team orders.

So he tossed a scenario out there: If Hamlin is in position to win the race but could help Busch by allowing his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate to get the victory, Montoya believes the team orders will come into play.

Not so fast, said Hamlin.

“Not a win,” Hamlin answered quickly when asked how far he’d go to help Busch. “I’d give him second if I was second, but not a win for sure.”

And not at Richmond, his home track and the one place Hamlin is desperate for a victory. He has been in contention at least three times, only to suffer a late setback that sent him home heartbroken.

His most recent disappointment came in May, when he led 148 laps but his crew dropped a pair of lug nuts during a late pit stop to take him out of contention..

“There’s so much more that goes into it,” Hamlin said. “There’s a lot of races that go on before this that you have to put yourself in position. You can’t play a game of cards and have only one card in the deck that can help you. You can’t be in that position. You need to have your hand set before you even get here.”

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