NASCAR: Tempers rise as Playoffs near

NASCAR: Tempers rise as Playoffs near
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BROOKLYN, Mich.—Like Aretha Franklin, Jimmie Johnson is looking for a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

But he shouldn’t expect any from Ryan Blaney any time soon. 

Johnson claims Blaney “drove through” the No. 48 Chevrolet last weekend at Watkins Glen. Following the incident,  the seven-time champion was looking for something—a text, a phone call or simply just an apology. 

“Of course, I was very upset following the race and what took place there,” Johnson said. “In my opinion, you just have to go talk to people and try to find out if what you thought in the car happened or not. Through that conversation, I was able to learn a lot about where Ryan’s head was on it all and here we are, we’re in Michigan. 

“That’s last weekend. It did not turn out the way it could have for us and points are so important for us right now. That is where a lot of the frustration came from. I’m sure we’ve all talked about it plenty and I’m ready to go racing at Michigan.”

Despite approaching Blaney on pit road after The Glen and voicing his displeasure, Johnson was still clearly put off that the younger driver didn’t offer a mea culpa after the fact. Johnson, 43, who is 16th in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup standings and fighting for a spot in the Playoffs, acknowledged that his current points situation fueled his ire.

“All I can speak to is the way I know I would handle things,” Johnson added. “Wrong, right or indifferent, I’ve always made an effort to talk to the person. I have learned more about Ryan’s point of view through reading articles than I have from out of his mouth, and that part bothers me. It’s pretty sad. 

“When I went to go talk to him after the race, at some point he said he felt bad but I never heard ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to,’ nothing that would make me think that he didn’t care if it happened. That aspect only confirmed the way I felt in my car. So I thought I would get a call from him during the week, just the friendship that we’ve had, the amount of respect that I thought we had for one another, and I didn’t.”

Blaney didn’t offer an apology simply because he didn’t see the incident in the same terms as Johnson. When the veteran driver described Blaney’s condition during their discussion as “his lips were quivering so bad when he came to speak. I don't know if he was nervous or scared or both,” the driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Ford was over it.

“I saw that he expected a call but we talked after the race,” Blaney said. “There was no need for a call and there’s no need for me to apologize. And if he’s expecting me to apology, then I’m sorry he got spun out after the race but there was nothing I could do about it. He came down across my nose, that’s going to happen.

“I was pretty disappointed what he said after the race—and that pretty much confirmed that I wasn’t going to check back in with him…That really pissed me off. I raced Jimmie with a lot of respect and I let him chew my ass out for two minutes or whatever it was and was very respectful and gave me his side of the story and then for him to say what he did after we got done talking that pretty much solidified that that respect has dwindled down a lot. Obviously, that respect doesn’t go both ways. It showed me he doesn’t have respect for me. 

“That really upset me. If I see him around, I’m sure we’ll have words. But I’m not going  to reach out because we talked after the race and what else is going to be solved?”

Called to the Principal’s Office

NASCAR held a tete-a-tete with Kyle Busch—and his two former proteges William Byron and Bubba Wallace prior to the action at Michigan Speedway on Friday. 

The sanctioning body was hoping to clear up any lingering animosity between the former Cup champion and the young drivers. Busch tangled with Byron in Stage 1 as he attempted to pass the No. 24. Busch was dumped by Wallace after he “moved” the No. 43 off the track earlier in the race.  

“It’s kind of surprising, I guess, that you get into it with two former drivers cause I guess you would kind of expect a little bit more or different from them than you would from say other competitors out there,” Busch said. “I guess I didn’t quite get that. Overall, as far as conversations went today, there’s a better understanding between both of them. We’ll move forward.”

Busch said the actions with Wallace had been building over the last couple of weeks. Of course Wallace interpreted the incident differently. The 25-year-old driver of the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevy believes he has to stand his ground.

“We both agreed to disagree, obviously, on what led up to those events and what happened,” Wallace said. “Obviously, frustrations were high but we had a good conversation. We were pissed off at each other. I’d say something to piss him off and vice versa. But at the end, we shook hands. He finished 11th. I’m not a threat to him, but at the same time, I’ve got to get my respect.

“I’m out there running my own race, running for my life, running for my career. It is what it is.” 
 

On the pole

Brad Keselowski won the pole for Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan International Speedway with a lap of 190.471mph. 

For Keselowski, it’s his second pole at the two-mile track and the 16th of his career. Kevin Harvick, William Byron, Alex Bowman, Clint Bowyer, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Paul Menard and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top 10. 

Austin Dillon and Daniel Hemric’s times were disallowed after not running fully functioning alternators in their Richard Childress Racing Chevys. Both teams were assessed L1 penalties and the pieces were confiscated by NASCAR.
 

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