Team Orders; it seems more than ever that term has become part of NASCAR. It's usually something you hear about at restrictor plate tracks, trying to conserve and make it to a certain point in the race before making the move.
Normally that is done just to save equipment and avoid a big wreck. But these days with the Chase, especially getting close to the Chase, the term "Team Orders" has become a very difficult and controversial topic. It became the front-and-center topic as of Monday night, as Michael Waltrip Racing went from having two drivers in the Chase back to just one.
Yet in all the discussion with what occurred on Saturday night to get Martin Truex Jr. into the Chase, one thing seemed to stick out. In a way, it appeared that one driver in the MWR field either didn't want to go along with the plan, or didn't know what was happening.
Recall the sequence of events on the track; first it was Bowyer spinning out and coming to pit road. This forced some of the field to come down, like Ryan Newman, who ended up having a slow pit stop. But then that's when things began to unfold in the MWR camp, just not exactly as expected.
This is where Brian Vickers seemed to either be unsure of what was going on, or confused as to what to do.
The radio transaction on the lap leading to green would suggest this. Suddenly Scott Miller, Vickers' crew chief made the call to have Vickers bring the No. 55 to pit road, clearly when he didn't need it. Even Vickers was confused by the call.
"You talking to me?" he replied, and when he said yes, he did what he was told. It seemed though that he almost didn't want to do it.
Then onto the final lap, controversy aside from the restart, Vickers found himself crawling around the track, as Bowyer also slowed way down to help Truex get the extra spots he needed to get into the Chase. At the same time, it also allowed Joey Logano to make it into the top-10, keeping Jeff Gordon out of the Chase as well. Bowyer seemed to go along with what MWR was doing, but all the while it seemed like Vickers either was confused or unwilling to follow team orders.
Consider this, Vickers officially signed his contract to be the driver of the No. 55 full-time beginning in 2014, and did so because of his performance in the car over the last two years, which included the win at New Hampshire this year. Surely he was in a box of whether to obey, or go against orders.
He ultimately followed orders, but did he want to?
This is constantly a tough call, because it's not just effecting the outcome of a race, but ultimately effecting the outcome of a title picture. Fans often question NASCAR about "phantom debris" cautions, and drivers have too on occasion, but this situation was quite different. There was deliberate intent on changing the outcome of the race, and NASCAR took a stand.
It is difficult for NASCAR to monitor what is and is not team orders. In a sense NASCAR said, "You may have team orders, but we ultimately are in charge."
While the sting of what happened on Saturday night may never disappear, it is important to remember that it seemed as though one driver did not want part of the plan. Sadly, Vickers made his decision, and now both he and the entire MWR team must pay.
Vickers made his bed when he went down pit road when the green flag waved, but even now he doesn't want to lie in it.