CHARLOTTE, N.C. — What happens on the track between Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson stays there. The teammates have mastered the balance between competition and friendship.
The same can’t be said for Matt Kenseth and Columbia native Carl Edwards, who were caught on camera in a nasty confrontation following Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway.
Kenseth was about to be interviewed when Edwards, his teammate at Roush Fenway Racing, grabbed him and firmly pushed him down pit road. In videos posted on YouTube, the two are seen arguing before Edwards climbs over the pit wall. Before walking away, Edwards raised a fist as if to strike Kenseth, who flinched.
A Roush Fenway spokesman said Monday the team had no immediate comment on the incident, and president Geoff Smith was out of the office and unavailable.
Apparently, there’s some serious animosity between Edwards and Kenseth, who first publicly criticized each other following a Busch Series race in Kansas last month.
It started when Kenseth appeared to cut Edwards off midway through that race, and the contact caused Edwards to cut a tire. Edwards later wrecked — not because of Kenseth — but blamed him for it by clapping his hands and giving a thumbs-up at Kenseth as he passed by him on the track.
“The reason I was mad, someone like a teammate would race me like that,” Edwards said. “He may or may not have done it on purpose. He’s my teammate and we’ve really got a good relationship, so I hope we can get by this.”
Kenseth went on to finish second, and was perplexed by Edwards’ anger.
“I don’t really feel like I did anything wrong,” he said. “My job’s not to get out of his way all of the time. We’re supposed to race each other like we always race each other, and race each other with respect.”
Kenseth didn’t stop before taking a slight jab at Edwards, who is running away with the Busch Series driver championship but only has the car ranked third in owner points behind entries fielded by Richard Childress Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing , which are both piloted by multiple drivers.
“If I was getting beat for the owner’s championship by a couple of guys running part-time ... it’s probably got him a little worked up,” Kenseth said.
If the two ever made up, it wasn’t apparent after Sunday’s Nextel Cup event.
It’s not exactly clear what they were even arguing about, but it likely stemmed from a mid-race restart when Reed Sorenson’s car failed to take off at the green flag. It caused the traffic behind Sorenson to stack up, and Kenseth and Edwards became entangled as they tried to weave around Sorenson.
They banged doors in Turn 1, and had heavier contact in Turn 3 that caused Edwards to lose track position. His anger apparently festered for the rest of the race, and when he spotted Kenseth starting a television interview, he was aggressive in interrupting to make a point.
It was a stark contrast from the harmony in the Hendrick Motorsports camp, which had just witnessed another duel between championship contenders Johnson and Gordon.
Johnson won Sunday’s race, holding off a charge from his mentor and friend, to score his series-best seventh victory of the season and tighten a championship battle that Gordon is trying to run away with. With four races remaining, Gordon holds a 53-point lead over Johnson.
There’s no animosity between the two, who celebrated in Victory Lane together. Losing crew chief Steve Letarte climbed atop Johnson’s pit box for a congratulatory high-five with winning crew chief Chad Knaus.
“I know that Jeff is going to do everything that he can to win, and I’m going to do the same,” Johnson said. “We have a great deal of respect for one another.”
The unity is contagious at Hendrick, where driver Casey Mears also went to Victory Lane, as did several of Gordon’s crew members. A week earlier, when Gordon won in Charlotte, driver Kyle Busch stopped by to congratulate him.
It’s a teamwork philosophy that owner Rick Hendrick spent years implementing and fostered by assembling selfless employees who focus on the big picture.
“I have told them this year, last year, year before that, ‘You won’t get beat from the outside in this business once you get the momentum. It is going to happen from the inside,’” he said.
The cohesiveness could be why Hendrick has won 15 of 32 races this season, put three drivers in the Chase and will likely get another Cup title from either Gordon or Johnson.
Roush Fenway, on the other hand, put just two of its five drivers in the Chase and has just five wins on the season.
Now the team appears to have a brewing problem between its top two drivers that, if left to fester, will only prevent the organization from ever catching up with Hendrick.