NASCAR: Competition to be team’s top dog as fierce as competition on the track
Based on salary and perks, Carl Edwards is the top dog at Roush Fenway Racing.
Based on current performance, Greg Biffle is the team captain.
Based on experience, former champion Matt Kenseth is the lead driver.
Edwards got a big pay raise last year – and a huge personal services commitment from the Ford Motor Co. – to remain with the race team, while Biffle and Kenseth either took small pay cuts or got a very little bump in salary. But when it comes to identifying the alpha dog at Roush Fenway, or any other race team, it generally comes down to winning races.
“Right now, Greg is the No. 1 team, the 16 team (Biffle) is because they’re leading the points and winning races,” Edwards said. “I don’t think in terms of who is the No. 1 team. I don’t think Jack (Roush) thinks that way. I feel that Greg and Matt have had a huge part in building this team, so that guys like myself are able to come in and have success.
“Greg has my respect. His team has my respect, just like everybody in the garage right now, so as to who is the No. 1 team? Stay tuned. That could change at any moment, I guess, but I don’t think like that.”
Competition within race organizations can be intense. Before anyone can be the best driver in the sport, they have to be the best driver within their own company. And that creates some curious rivalries.
In 2010 Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson had a month-long feud that included several run-ins on the track. Gordon, a four-time champion with the most seniority at Hendrick Motorsports, laughed at running into Johnson at the Texas Motor Speedway, saying on the team radio, “Four-time (champion) is a little upset with me.”
Johnson went on to win his fifth consecutive championship that year to make his claim as the No. 1 driver at Hendrick, but only after the car owner warned both not to let their competitiveness tear the team apart.
Of course, some would argue Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a lead driver at Hendrick because he’s won the most popular driver nine years in a row and continues to make more money in endorsements and souvenirs than anyone else in NASCAR.
“There is a bit of a pecking order and it really comes down to what you’ve done lately,” Earnhardt said. “I think that Jimmie (Johnson) and Jeff (Gordon) will always carry a certain role in that company that I will probably never achieve just due to them being there that long and having that trust built up with Rick and all the employees there and their accomplishments, obviously.”
So are they better drivers?
“I feel like I’m the best,” Earnhardt said. “I think that’s the way you have to feel. I feel that I’m smarter than everybody and I can drive better than everybody and I know a lot of people ain’t going to agree with that, but I feel pretty strong about it.”
Over at Roush Fenway, Biffle leads the point standings with one victory and five top-five finishes in eight starts heading into Saturday night’s race at the Richmond International Raceway. Kenseth is third in points with a win and five top-fives. Edwards is winless and in ninth place.
“I still think the 99 (Edwards) is the No. 1 team at Roush,” Biffle said. “I’m the underdog.”
Unlike the competition at Hendrick, the drivers at Roush Fenway are more comfortable being coy about their pecking order. That’s why Edwards finds humor in Biffle’s approach.
“Maybe for a new guy that underdog role is simpler, but I’ve learned that wears off pretty quickly,” Edwards said. “I’d rather be the guy leading the race, leading the series, leading the expectations. It’s just better to be faster.”
And even better to be the top dog on your own team.