By Brant James
May 05, 2011

Race car drivers can spew any amount of venom over their team radio during the blur of competition and not damage relationships with their team, as long as they adhere to two rules, says former crew chief Ray Evernham.

"Don't get accusational. Don't get personal," said Evernham, who won three championships with driver Jeff Gordon.

Martin Truex Jr.'s expletive-laced salvo at his pit crew after it left a wheel loose and fouled a potentially high finish at Richmond on Saturday was within bounds, Evernham said. Kurt Busch's tirade, in which he berated Penske Racing technical director Tom German, is not. And until Busch controls what has become a recurrent boorish approach, Evernham added, he will never again be a championship-winning driver.

"Kurt's crossed the line, It's the same line that you can cross in any relationship, really," said Evernham. "There's that respect thing. If you're just venting in the car that the car is not right, OK, but when you make it personal and accusational, that's when people get defensive.

"Kurt is a great guy and a talented driver but he has a history of doing that. Kurt's not a kid. Like his brother [Kyle], I think he has to look at his own emotions and know that if he's ever going to be a champion again, he's going to have to keep a handle on that, because what he does is actually nonproductive and it's happened more than once. But the bottom line is when a guy is yelling and screaming at you and making it really personal on the radio when tens of thousands of people are listening, you don't shake that stuff off."

Not only are tirades potentially damaging to relationships -- although Kurt Busch survived, calling owner Roger Penske "dude" while complaining about his car at Martinsville in 2009 -- they often prevent the reconciliation of the original mechanical issue that ignited a driver's temper, Evernham said.

"A driver can say a lot. I've had Jeff Gordon say 'this is the worst car that we ever had here' and I didn't take it personally because all he was saying is, 'look, this is the worst car we ever had here'," Evernham recalled. "He didn't say 'you're an idiot.' He didn't say 'you messed me up.' He didn't say 'you guys suck.' I'll tell a driver, 'don't tell me it sucks. How do I fix sucks? That doesn't help me. Tell me what it's doing.'

The interplay goes both directions. Drivers, especially those with long-term relationships with a crew chief, must learn to pick their spots when offering input or criticizing a call. Jimmie Johnson's disagreement with Chad Knaus over not pitting to address an ill feeling with his car preceded a blown tire in the 2005 season finale, costing him a chance at a first title and stress with his partner. The matter was resolved by a meeting with team owner Rick Hendrick, and the pair has honed its communication skills masterfully since. That's not to say there aren't occasional pitched voices.

Johnson, chasing Denny Hamlin for the points lead late last season at Texas, could sense that Knaus was becoming frustrated with his pleas to free up the No. 48 Chevrolet approaching the final scheduled pit stops. "All I got, bud," Knaus sniped. So Johnson backed off.

"That comment alone, when he said it to me, I knew in the back of my mind he was full of sh--," Johnson said. "He was just frustrated. So I just kept my mouth shut and next stop we make a change, come out on the track, car was better. He was like, 'Hey, we found something.' That's just in that dynamic of him being frustrated, and he's tried a lot ... He'd be 'I don't have anything! You've got to figure it out!' and I'm like biting my tongue. The worst thing would be to push the button and blow up. All right, let him have that one. Nothing good will come of it. Next pit stop, we get the car better and I tell him that's the direction we need.

"There's these ups and downs throughout the whole race people might not pick up on. But we know each other so well, and he's worked very, very hard to understand when he's going out on that branch."

Evernham credited Kurt Busch's younger brother Kyle, for improving his behavior this season, controlling his emotions and "learning what it takes to become a champion."

"Those guys are out there, trying to do their best and when they're frustrated, things come out, but if you listen to Carl Edwards, he can complain and not make it personal," Evernham said. "Sometimes he stops and finishes his statement. Kevin Harvick, people talk about how he's made it personal. He's made it personal with pit crew members, but with Kevin, he's got a handle on it, I think, too. And he fights that fine line because when he goes off sometimes he's actually speaking as the owner, too, and that can be doubly frustrating."

With a victory on Saturday at Richmond, Kyle Busch moved him and his brother, Kurt, into a tie for fifth place on the Sprint Cup list of sibling winners. Passing Terry and Bobby Labonte is likely to be a bittersweet moment unless Kurt beats his brother back to Victory Lane.

Kyle has amassed 21 wins in 231 races while Kurt has 22 in 373 starts. If championships are what really matters, Kurt still has the edge after winning for Roush Fenway in 2004. Kyle Busch has never finished higher than fifth in Sprint Cup points (2007). He is currently third.

NASCAR's all-time winning brothers:

Allisons -- 94: Bobby, 84; Donnie, 10

Waltrips -- 88: Darrell, 84; Michael, 4

Flocks -- 62: Tim, 39; Fonty, 19; Bob, 4

Thomases -- 49: Herb, 48; Donald, 1

Labontes -- 43: Terry, 22; Bobby, 21

Busches -- 43: Kurt, 22: Kyle, 21

Burtons -- 26: Jeff, 21; Ward, 5

Parsons -- 22: Benny, 21; Phil, 1

Bodines -- 19: Geoff, 18; Brett, 1

Richard and Maurice Petty would assume the lead with 200 wins if the Vince DiMaggio principle was applied, but Maurice never won a Sprint Cup race.

Top remaining Sprint Cup drivers who are not under contract for 2012.

1. Carl Edwards: Doesn't it seem like your team's best hitter always has a banner year entering free agency? Unless you're a Cardinals fan, I suppose. This other Missouri star is racing out his current deal with Roush Fenway Racing with zeal, leading the series in points. Teammates Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle are secure long-term, and Edwards' renewal is being negotiated in conjunction with his sponsor. Edwards would be an attractive option for almost any organization, vacancy or not, but drivers don't often leave Roush's clutches, no matter the squabbles and tough love reconciliations. It seems logical Red Bull, which loses loaner Kasey Kahne to Hendrick Motorsports in 2012, would make inquiries.

2. Clint Bowyer: He, too, has watched teammates secure new deals, but Bowyer seems confident he will soon join Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton as long-term members of the Richard Childress Racing organization. His personality seems a good fit with the organization. "I've talked to Richard a couple times, and hopefully we're getting close object that," he said. "I've just been having fun at the race track, focusing on what I can do. ... Hopefully we can get our sponsors locked in and get everything put in place and not have to worry about it."

3. Juan Pablo Montoya: His relationship with team owner Chip Ganassi is both professional and personal. They fight, they get along, the get each other. Ganassi obviously trusts and respects Montoya's unique, diverse driving abilities, having asked him to come drive one of his stock cars and paying an undisclosed but certainly sizable ransom to Montoya's former McLaren-Mercedes Formula One team for his contract release. Montoya doesn't seem nervous about a renewal. Then again, he doesn't seem fazed by many things.

Memo to Martin Truex Jr.'s lawn guy: Do not break anymore sprinkler heads. The driver of the No. 56 Toyota basically fired his entire pit crew after a mid-race mistake cost him several positions at Richmond on Saturday and Michael Waltrip Racing supported its driver by naming a new front tire changer (Eric Maycroft), front tire carrier (Ricky Coleman), rear tire changer (Daniel Rankin) and rear tire carrier (Jake Brzozowski).

"We had a very good car at Richmond. It was the best car I've ever had there," Truex Jr. said in a team release. "In Richmond, it was hard not to say anything when our night ended the way it did. ... I appreciate the fact that MWR addressed the issue and we're moving on."

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