LOUDON, N.H. – During the closing laps of the Heluva! Good 200 Saturday (Sept. 19), one thing was clear: Kevin Harvick and Ron Hornaday were not too happy with each other. Well, yes, they had been trading paint for the last 50 laps; that alone could explain the rubbin’ and bumpin’ during caution laps, especially for these two committed competitors.
But what if it was more?
Turns out it was. Harvick had his crew chief communicate to the No. 33 team that he would like Hornaday to move over so he could pass and have a go at the No. 51 driven by Kyle Busch. Harvick had fresher tires, while by the end of the race Hornaday’s would be nearly 150 laps old, too worn to likely catch the No. 51. And Harvick had made successful runs for the lead earlier in the race while the No. 33 seemed to be fading during the final 50 miles. It even sounds like a reasonable request when you look at just those facts.
However, somewhere in the execution of this request, something went awry.
Hornaday said no. He wouldn’t give. He blocked. He raced hard. In doing so, he allowed the No. 51 to widen his lead. Harvick tried rubbing Hornaday to get his way… all for nothing.
So, Harvick reacted as you might expect… he got pissed. So mad, in fact, that as soon as the checkers flew over the No. 51, Harvick parked his truck on pit lane, hopped out of his ride and rushed to Hornaday’s window to have some words. Words? What kind of words?
Unfortunately, no microphone was there to catch the gist of the suppressed growling. What happened next, though, ignited the conspiracy theorist in me.
With his usual sunny smile, third-place Harvick told the media, when asked what all the hoopla was about: “That was a result of poor communication with a crew chief and spotter. I just didn’t want to get loose under him.” (That’s it, throw the staff under the bus.)
Meanwhile, second-place Hornaday climbed from his truck and shrugged off the whole thing. “I pinched him down. I didn’t realize he was that loose… it was just racing.”
Ever hear a company line issued by two people at the same time?
Let’s look a second time at the facts. Harvick told his employee to move over so the boss could win. The employee did not honor the “request.” Harvick got angry and proceeded to throw a tantrum on the radio. And then he realized what he just did… he issued team orders. Time for damage control.
So after Kevin and Ron toed the company line for the cameras, a company meeting was called in one of the KHI haulers… and nothing more was heard.
There are no team orders in NASCAR, right?
In this day and age of three- and four-car teams, that answer has been becoming more and more uncertain. Almost to a person, all the Chasers admitted that allowing a team member to lead a lap or other “gentlemanly conduct” was expected. How about allowing somebody to win a race? Nobody wanted to really commit to an answer on that one. Sort of a universal, “Please don’t make me answer.”
But those orders, like this one that will be quickly buried under six feet of unified denial, have no place in our sport. I don’t care how much money, prestige or power is on the line.
Now, I can understand why Harvick made the request he did. He wanted to win. It just didn’t cross his mind at that instant that Hornaday was seeking his third victory in a row at New Hampshire or that Hornaday was really rather busy maintaining his lead in the Truck Series championship. Or even that Hornaday had a real chance to win if Kyle Busch ran out of gas in the last few laps, a definite possibility.
Harvick forgot the bigger picture. Harvick thought only of himself.
Yet for all the drama and closed-door discussions this little misplaced communication will result in, we did learn one thing: Maybe team orders are issued, but that doesn’t mean they will be executed.
Ron Hornaday… you rock!
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