Teams Shouldn’t Be Allowed to Suspend Competitor’s Crew Members

Photo by Rusty Jarrett/NKP Photography

By Jerry Jordan, Editor

POCONO, Pa. – Was the outburst and confrontation between a Joe Gibbs Racing crew chief and JGR leased crew members at Furniture Row Racing so out of line at Indianapolis Motor Speedway that it merited a three-week suspension? No.

Does the suspension look bad for JGR? Absolutely.

It looks shady. It is a blight that will be hard to overcome. And considering Kyle Busch’ No. 18 team hasn’t won this season but Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 78 team – using JGR equipment and crew members – has been tearing up the track, winning stages and races to secure a spot deep into the playoffs, it looks like sabotage even though it isn’t.

Busch has questioned how FRR can buy/lease JGR equipment, ship it to their headquarters in Denver, rework it and then dominate on the track. It’s worked so well for FRR that Truex has 14 stages wins and three race wins compared to Busch’s seven stage wins and zero race wins.

So, last week Truex was racing Busch hard for the lead on Lap 112 at Indianapolis and his car got loose. He slid up the track taking both he and Busch out of contention for the win. Busch’s crew chief, Adam Stevens, was walking behind the pits, heading to the No. 18 hauler when he detoured into the No. 78 box and a verbal confrontation erupted. Were there fists flying? No. Were there threats made? None in the legal sense of causing imminent harm. Did it have the potential to be worse than it was? Sure.

But this is NASCAR where passion runs deep and both teams were dominant in the race. In fact, had they not crashed each other it likely would have been a battle between them for the win. What appears to have happened is that someone – obviously with more seniority than front tire changer, Chris Taylor, and rear tire changer, Lee Cunningham, got their feelings hurt. The result of those perceived hurt feelings is that Taylor and Cunningham must sit out three races because they technically work for JGR and JGR officials meted out their discipline.

Yes, you read correctly. The crew guys are leased to a competing team, which isn’t completely unusual but poses an interesting dynamic, are being punished by what is essentially a parent company that is struggling for wins. It’s been compared to someone walking in and cursing out their boss, again, because the crews work for JGR but contract out to a competing organization. So … is FRR its own entity or is it controlled, at least partially, by JGR? It also brings up questions about the four-team cap in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series?

Just a few days before, it was confirmed that Erik Jones was actually on-loan to FRR and would be fielding JGR’s No. 20 car in 2018 and beyond.

All of this brings into question the “satellite team” scenario allowing smaller, less-funded teams to have a parasitical relationship with a stronger ally. In most situations, the smaller teams don’t outperform the more dominant host or partner. They want to excel but until FRR it has never happened on a consistent basis.

When these types of alliances were first announced, some questioned them as a way to get around NASCAR rules on how many cars a race organization can control. Currently, one racing organization can have no more than four teams. And while the alliances may not violate the letter of the law, so to speak, this latest incident definitely gives the appearance of impropriety and brings up some tough questions.

 

As the teams were packing up following the crash, two crew guys – one from JGR and one from FRR – were talking to each other outside the pit box. They had separated but at about the same time, Stevens walked up and Cunningham begins clapping at Stevens.

Cunningham: “Tell Kyle, ‘way to go. Tell Kyle, ‘way to go.’”

Stevens: “I will tell him that but you better shut your fu***ng mouth.”

Cunningham: “Now, he wants to fu***ng race after you (unintelligible).

Stevens: “No, what I want to do is beat your fu***ng ass cowboy.”

At that point, Taylor comes up, grabs Stevens by the shoulders, tells him to get out of their pit box and that he didn’t care who he was.

Taylor: “Hey! I don’t care, get out of my fu***ng box.

As Stevens is being backed away he shoves his finger in Taylor’s chest and shouts. “Hey.”

Taylor replies, “I don’t care who you are. Get out of my box.”

Stevens: “Alright pal.”

Taylor: “I don’t give a f**k who you are. Get out of my box.”

Stevens: “Alright, cowboy. Tough guy.”

Taylor: “I am.”

Stevens: “Oh, good for you.”

Taylor is then grabbed by Cunningham and pulled back as one of the JGR crew guys steps in front of Stevens. Someone is then heard saying, “Hey man, just walk the f**k away” and Cunningham fires a final shot, “You stepped into our box.”

Many believe this is a black eye on JGR. No doubt, some reading this column will feel the punishment, whether intentional or not, could appear as if JGR is being a poor sport and trying to gain an advantage by crippling the No. 78 pit crew. In reality, it’s probably just an employee-employer relationship issue and nothing more but it also could have been handled better. The fracas obviously wasn’t bad enough for the sanctioning body to take action, so perhaps some counseling (behind closed doors) would have been a better avenue than a decision that brings scrutiny on a championship organization.

7 Comments

  1. Bill B

    July 31, 2017 at 6:06 am

    It isn’t often I agree with you Jerry but you nailed this one right on.

  2. DJ

    July 31, 2017 at 8:02 am

    On the JGR organizational chart Stevens would be a manager and the 78 crew members associate’s. With that being said, he should not have entered the 78 pit box and just kept walking and addressed the 78 crews behavior on Monday morning at the JGR team meeting. If there had been no previous personnel issues with the crew members then something along the line of a written warning in ALL involved personnel files and that’s it. Stevens behavior was equal to the 78 crew. Joe Gibbs’ decision to suspend the crew members was excessive and negatively effected the 78’s competitiveness

  3. LJ

    July 31, 2017 at 10:08 am

    The crew working for Truex are Gibbs employees. They were insubordinate to a certain degree by showing their arses to a crew chief within the same organization. The hand clapping was inappropriate, foolish and asinine considering the 78 wrecked the 18. The hand clapper instigated the whole thing. If I were Gibbs I would have put the handclapper on probation and fired the “cowboy”. Cowboy was way out of line putting his hands on someone. This was the equivalent of having one of your employees being disrespectful and threatening towards one of your supervisors. Not gonna happen in our business. The mentality of many on this subject shows their lack of real world knowledge, their knowledge of the Gibbs/ Visser alliance, and the flamer/ blamer mentality of the key board snipers.

  4. JL

    July 31, 2017 at 10:45 am

    Agree with Jerry Jordan. It looks and smells “fishy”. Adam Stevens was just as big of a jerk as the other two. Funny nobody mentions Kyle Busch cocking his fingers like a gun and firing off two “shots” as he walked away. He is a jerk and always will be a jerk in my opinion. I read somewhere that they were suspended for profane language, guess Adam’s use of the “f” word does not count. Nothing should have been done to anyone. It is just Joe Gibbs knocking down his biggest threat to the title. Martin Truex, Jr.

  5. Lee

    July 31, 2017 at 11:25 am

    what amazes me is Gibbs suspeding the crew members for this, but will not suspend his driver for doing much worse. Hearing the driver of the #18 cussing his own team on the scanner, flipping the bird to NASCAR officals and worse – but no 3 week suspenson for him.

  6. Bob

    July 31, 2017 at 1:49 pm

    So those that say that Adam Stevens is management and you can’t talk to manage like that. Well, how about someone in management talking to an employee like this,”I will tell him but you better shut your F***ing mouth. And maybe this, “No what I want to do is beat you F***ing ass.” Saint Joe says no suspension for you, but those guys that help the other team see you in three races. Remember who escalated the situation by making an aggressive move toward the crew member and then shoved his finger in one of their chest.
    What say you Joe? Why the suspensions? Per Jeffcluck.com “Because of their action and what they did.” What about Stevens? “We always sit and we consider our employees very important to us and the way they act.” Say what! “So anyway, we felt like we worked through it the right way.” Right!
    Maybe Adam Stevens should have kept walking and at the most said we’ll talk later. That would have been leadership in action. Really all this could have been handled in house with a sit down discussion and perhaps a fine.

  7. Keith

    August 2, 2017 at 5:09 pm

    Nascar should suspend Joe Gibbs for violating rule 12-4A for action detrimental to stock car racing. Nascar has to nip this in the bud now no team owner should have a say in another teams business. If he leased the pit crew for the race he should have no say about what happened in that race only FRR should and if he leased the team for the year no say all year Joe Mr. 2 faced Gibbs should only have a say when the lease is up. Next thing you know he will be leasing cars to teams and tell them how fast they can drive it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *