NASCAR

November 05, 2007

Bad Chemistry

Carl Edwards's on-camera attack on teammate Matt Kenseth revealed the dysfunction in Jack Roush's stable

MATT KENSETH leaned against a wall inside his number 17 hauler, parked in the garage at Atlanta Motor Speedway last Friday, and peered through a tinted glass window. Out there, some 30 feet away, Carl Edwards was helping to push his number 99 Ford into his garage stall. This was as close physically as the two Roush Fenway Racing teammates had been since five days earlier in Martinsville, Va., when Edwards, decked out in camo shorts and a tight black T-shirt, accosted Kenseth while the latter was in the middle of a postrace interview. Edwards shoved Kenseth away from the camera and feigned a haymaker that made his much smaller teammate flinch. The chilling incident was captured on video and had more than 622,000 views on YouTube as of Monday. Now Kenseth was ready to fight back ... verbally.

"I've got a problem with Carl, and I'm glad people finally got to see that side of him in the video," Kenseth said. "He left a message for me earlier this week, but I don't need to talk to him. I could write down on paper the exact words of his apology. I know his script. Until he proves that he's changed with his actions, I don't want to deal with him."

Owner Jack Roush decided not to have a team meeting in Atlanta, giving his drivers a cool-down period. But clearly there are issues that need to be discussed within RFR. Although Edwards and Kenseth each had his best race of the Chase in Sunday's Pep Boys Auto 500—Edwards finished second and is fourth in the standings; Kenseth took fourth and is 11th—both have underperformed in the last two months. Worse, for Roush, their fractured relationship may be beyond repair.

The two drivers have had several on-track run-ins over the last month, but the real source of their animosity is what happened in a Busch Series race at Kansas Speedway on Sept. 29. Edwards and Kenseth collided, causing Edwards to blow a tire. Edwards believed Kenseth cut him off; Kenseth vehemently disagreed and then poked fun at Edwards, telling the media that even though Edwards was running away with the Busch Series driver's title, he "was getting beat for the owner's championship by a couple of guys running part time."

When Edwards heard this comment he called Kenseth's cellphone and left a menacing, profanity-laced message, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. Kenseth and Edwards haven't spoken more than a few words since.

"Carl is definitely in the wrong here," says Greg Biffle, another Roush driver, who's trying to negotiate a peace between the two. "Carl's image has taken a hit. He can turn on the glamour glow for the cameras as good as anyone, but this deal has shown that he has a whole other side."

Indeed, Edwards's YouTube moment effectively shattered the Missouri native's carefully cultivated image as a dimple-cheeked Midwestern boy who, golly gee, is just happy to be here. A few drivers had seen Edwards's dark side before—last August, for instance, a fuming Edwards nearly smashed the left hand of Dale Earnhardt Jr. when Edwards rammed into Little E under caution in a Busch race—but in Atlanta, Edwards was unapologetic for an intensity that, at times, has overwhelmed his judgment. "When things don't go my way or I feel like someone is trying to take something from me, I'm going to stand up for myself," he said. "That's just the way I was raised."

A driver doesn't have to be buddies with his teammates to win in NASCAR—Kurt Busch took the 2004 Cup with little assistance from the other drivers at Roush—but it sure helps. Just ask Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, the two data-swapping pals from Hendrick Motorsports who have so ruthlessly dominated the 2007 season.

ONLY AT SI.COM Lars Anderson's Cup analysis every Tuesday and Friday.

Short Laps

1 Jimmie Johnson (right) won his eighth race of the season on Sunday in Atlanta, but credit the victory to crew chief Chad Knaus, who gambled on a two-tire pit stop with three laps left. Most of the field took four tires, allowing Johnson to grab the lead on pit road. He never gave it up and now trails Jeff Gordon, who finished seventh, by only nine points.

2 After struggling all season, Toyota may finally be coming around. On Sunday, for the second time in three races, three Toyota drivers finished in the top 16: Brian Vickers (10th), Michael Waltrip (11th) and A.J. Allmendinger (16th). The reason for this late-season surge? Toyota Racing Development is pouring more resources into its program in anticipation of the arrival of Joe Gibbs Racing, which is switching from Chevrolet to Toyota in the off-season.

PHOTOMATTHEW THACKER/ASP/CAL SPORT MEDIA (CARS)MAN IN THE MIDDLE Roush (in hat) has yet to bring Kenseth (17 and left) and Edwards (99, right) together. PHOTOMATTHEW THACKER/ASP/CAL SPORT MEDIA (EDWARDS)[See caption above] PHOTORAINIER EHRHARDT/AP (KENSETH)[See caption above] PHOTOMARK HUMPHREY/AP (ROUSH)[See caption above] PHOTOSAM SHARPE/US PRESSWIRE (JOHNSON)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)