NASCAR: Are team orders already becoming a reality?

Kurt Busch, Chip Ganassi Racing, and Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Kurt Busch, Chip Ganassi Racing, and Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) /

Team orders have been prevalent in other forms of motorsport, but they are banned in NASCAR. With teams recently working together to ensure victory for one of their drivers, could that change?

The subject of team orders in NASCAR has been controversial, and sometimes lamented, but that’s not to say that such orders have never existed.

One of the most notable examples in the sport was the infamous “spingate” incident, when Michael Waltrip Racing’s Clint Bowyer spun out on purpose to manipulate the race and ensure teammate Martin Truex Jr. a spot in the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup.

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Michael Waltrip Racing ended up being fined $300,000, and their drivers were each docked 50 points, moving Truex out of the Chase and putting Stewart-Haas Racing’s Ryan Newman back in while also adding Hendrick Motorsports’ Jeff Gordon as the 13th seed.

NASCAR then created the “100% rule” which requires each driver and team to race at 100% at any given time in the race.

Team orders are not exclusive to NASCAR. The FIA, the governing body of Formula 1, issued a ban against team orders in 2002, but teams still found ways around it, so the ban was lifted in 2010. Though NASCAR hasn’t lifted the 100% rule, teams recently seem to be pushing their luck.

Just last year at Martinsville Speedway in the final race before the Championship 4, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Erik Jones was instructed not to pass teammate Denny Hamlin, being told, “don’t pass him, Jones.” NASCAR ultimately did not issue any penalties to Joe Gibbs Racing, and Hamlin moved on to the Championship 4.

This year, several races have seen teammates take a line away from the driver in the lead in order for one of their teammates to ultimately catch up to the leader, pass him, and go on to win. Both races at Atlanta Motor Speedway serve as examples.

In March, Team Penske’s Joey Logano took away the line from Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson, which allowed teammate Ryan Blaney to take away the win.

In July, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ross Chastain blocked Joe Gibbs Racing ‘s Kyle Busch to aid teammate (and Busch’s brother) Kurt, who went on to win. Kurt even credited Chastain’s move to doing “his job as a teammate”.

With no penalties issued for those incidents, similar ones happened again.

This past weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway, the Truck Series saw Kyle Busch Motorsports driver John Hunter Nemechek seemingly allow teammate Christian Eckes to drive by for a needed win to advance in the playoffs.

Nemechek was not too pleased with the accusations.

Add in the Cup Series race, when Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott took away the line from Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick, allowing teammate Kyle Larson to grab his sixth win of the year — another instance in which team orders could be argued.

Elliott had a run-in with Harvick earlier in the race, which definitely played a factor, but Elliott admitted that he would stand up for himself and his team. He added that he “held his line” when it was suggested that he affected the race between Harvick and Larson.

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While some have had radio communications to support them and some have just been on-track examples, it seems as though team orders could be occurring more often than not in NASCAR since they’ve added a ban against them. If teams can find ways around punishment, then that will continue to open up the door for more situations similar to those mentioned.