NASCAR’s Newest Drama: Teammates blocking Teammates

Austin Cindric(2) leads Ryan Blaney(12) through turn four at Daytona on the last lap (Photo: Getty Images)

Blocking another driver used to be highly frowned upon in racing. Along that same line, there was a time not so long ago that executing a slide job pass on a dirt track might result in a punch in the nose in the pit area after the checkered flag. But the racing landscape is an ever-changing one and both of those tactics are among the changes in modern racing styles.

Nowadays, both blocking and the slide job have become as much a normal part of racing etiquette as the slingshot pass was back in the 1980’s.

However, a more recent development in terms of the use of blocking has been for drivers to throw blocks against their own teammates. And sometimes those blocks have robbed the offended teammate of a chance at victory while opening the door for someone from another organization to win. Think back to the 2021 Daytona 500 when Joey Logano moved down the track to block fellow Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski setting off a chain reaction that eliminated several cars, including both Logano and Keselowski, while clearing the way for Michael McDowell to win the race.

Fast forward to the first two races of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season where blocking has very much been a topic of conversation.

Again in the 2022 Daytona 500, it was Team Penske at the forefront of the conversation as Ryan Blaney had a big run on leader Austin Cindric coming to the checkered flag until Cindric moved his No. 2 Ford up the track forcing Blaney’s No. 12 ride into the outside wall. Cindric went on to win the ‘Great American Race’ as Blaney crashed just past the finish line after earning a 4th place result.

Just a few short years ago, it would have been considered very much unacceptable for a driver to jump into the line of an oncoming teammate. The early part of this season along with last year’s Daytona 500 clearly shows that line of thinking has been tossed out the window.

Late in the going during Sunday’s Wise Power 400 at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, Hendrick Motorsports driver and defending Cup Series champion Kyle Larson was racing side-by-side with Logano when Chase Elliott, also of Hendrick Motorsports, roared up from behind with a full head of steam. As Larson and Logano began to make their entry into turn one of the 2-mile track, Elliott moved to the outside in hopes of passing both. However, Larson moved up the track at that same moment leaving Elliott with nowhere to go but into the outside wall.

Elliott, who had damaged his car earlier in the race, went from looking like he would make a great comeback to suffering enough damage to take him out of contention in an instant. Larson ultimately scored the win while Elliott limped home in 26th place.

Larson explained the situation in his post-race press conference saying that his initial concern had been to hold Logano off until he realized too late that Elliott had gained so much ground.

“I had a run, so I went to peel off, and as soon as I peeled off, my spotter is yelling, ‘Outside! Outside! Outside!’,” Larson explained. “And I had no clue he was even coming. Yeah, I mean, I hate that I ended his day after they worked so hard to get back to the lead lap and back in contention to win, but it was just an honest mistake on probably both of our faults. I should have had more awareness in my mirror. My spotter could have told me he was coming with a big run, and we would have avoided that mess. I would have probably not been side drafting on Joey as hard as I was. I would have been more so protecting on Chase than worrying about Joey.”

Following Daytona, Cindric told the media that teammates help each other get into a position to win, but once in that position coming out of the last turn on the last lap of NASCAR’s biggest race, it’s a matter of doing what it takes to win no matter who is trying to pass.

“In that moment, you kind of have to block all that out and know they want to win just as badly or worse than you do,” Cindric pointed out. “That’s where I was in the moment, but at the same time, off of Turn 4, they’re just another competitor.”

The Cup Series rookie says that the Team Penske drivers had discussed how they would handle such a situation while still at their team shop before the racing action even began in Daytona.

“We talked about it as a team on Monday before we left for Daytona, as far as what the rules were going to be there and how to manage that, and I think that stays behind closed doors, but I think to that point, Ryan had a shot to win the race off of Turn 4, and that was his chance to do it, and I knew that’s the opportunity that he wanted to have, and I think the best chance for him to do that is to be second in line.”

Following the Fontana race, Larson insisted that he had no intention of causing damage to his teammate’s car. But in the end, they were simply two determined competitors racing for a win.

“It happened, and I hate that it did,” he said. “I know they’re upset. But we’ll talk, and hopefully we’ll get on the same page. I would never run into my teammate or block him that aggressively and that late on purpose.”

The driver known as ‘Yung Money’ believes the situation between the two most recent series champions will work itself out in time.

“I’m not too worried about it,” Larson declared. “I think if anything it’s probably a small bump in the road. I think if things happen more so in the future, then yes, it gets out of hand. But Hendrick Motorsports, I don’t think will ever let it get to that point. And like I said, we have enough respect for each other that I don’t think it will get out of hand at all. We’ll just have a conversation, and I’m sure it’ll be fine. Like I said, he’s going to be upset, which he has a right to be, but I’ll explain my side just like I explained it to you guys, and he’ll believe me or he won’t.”

Other forms of motorsports, particularly Formula 1, often times have very specific organizational rules to regulate the competition between teammates. NASCAR has never really employed such expect on occasions late in seasons in which one driver within the company is in contention for a championship and others are not.

Since teammates, in theory at least, have identical equipment, there are bound to be times in which they find themselves racing each other for position on the track or even wins. In the opinion of this writer, it is best for teammates to race it out than to play follow-the-leader.

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Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.

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