CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - NASCAR team owner Jack Roush disputes a ``Ford only'' edict existed at Talladega Superspeedway, even though there's plenty of evidence to suggest otherwise.
``At Roush Fenway Racing we expect our individual drivers to make decisions that put themselves in the best position to win each and every race,'' Roush said in response to mounting criticism over the closing laps of Sunday's race.
``That is a philosophy that we have lived by for over two decades, and one that we will continue to abide by going forward. Of course, as in any team, we would prefer for our drivers to work together when possible.
``However, to be clear, we did not micromanage or dictate to any of our drivers, nor any other Ford drivers, how to race with other drivers at Talladega last Sunday.''
That's not how it looked, beginning with the very first practice session at Talladega.
Tony Stewart had worked with Ford driver David Gilliland in the first three restrictor-plate races of the season. But after the first practice at Talladega, Stewart said he was looking for a new drafting partner because the Ford drivers were committed to working only with Ford drivers.
Gilliland didn't really deny that Ford drivers had to be focused on fellow Ford drivers, particularly championship contenders Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth. The two Roush Fenway Racing drivers are in the thick of the race for the Sprint Cup title.
``When you lay out your initial plans, you have to think of the big picture and Ford does a lot for us and we would really like to see a Ford win this championship,'' Gilliland said.
Then came Sunday's race, when if it hadn't been clear already that the blue oval bunch was sticking together, Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne ditched Chevrolet driver Jeff Gordon.
Gordon was seventh on the final restart and thought Bayne was committed to pushing him over the last two laps. Instead, Bayne backed off, and Gordon, with no help, faded to 27th.
``I'm not happy about what this has become,'' Bayne posted on Twitter in reference to Talladega's two-car drafting style and the reliance on partners.
``It's too premeditated. We should be able to go with whoever is around us. I would have rather pulled over and finished last than tell (Gordon) I would work with him and then be strong-armed into bailing.''
Bayne ended up helping Kenseth, who had been separated from teammate David Ragan on the final restart. Kenseth jumped onto Bayne's bumper, finished 18th, and moved up to second in the standings. Kenseth trails leader Edwards by 14 points with four races remaining in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
Roush, in his statement, said drivers make the final decision on how they will race on the track.
``There are unique codes that all drivers establish and have to live by on the track,'' Roush said. ``How they manage their code is up to our drivers as individuals. This weekend, there were no team orders, from myself or anyone at Roush Fenway, given to any of our drivers as to whom they could or could not choose to run with or assist, nor did I give similar directions or suggestion to any of the other Ford drivers.''
He also said after speaking to the 20-year-old Bayne, he believes Bayne's postrace thoughts were a result of having disappointed Gordon.
``Trevor is extremely talented, but it is still very early in his career,'' Roush said. ``Over time he will grow to understand that in such a high-paced, competitive and hostile environment it is unlikely that all of his decisions will make everyone happy.''
Stewart, meanwhile, wasn't buying any of the explanations.
He had been working with Paul Menard late in the race, and alleges Richard Childress Racing told Menard he could not help Stewart beat the RCR tandem of Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer. Stewart was fourth on the final restart, Burton and Bowyer jumped out to a huge lead, and Bowyer passed Burton on the last lap for the win.
Stewart finished seventh.
``It's a shame, because I've never seen more politics in a race go on in my life than what I saw this weekend,'' Stewart said Tuesday after meeting with fans at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
``I think the car owners are to blame, the manufacturers are to blame and the fans don't deserve that.''

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