As has been well documented, Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Blaney had an on-track incident in last weekend’s Go Bowling at the Glen event on the Watkins Glen International road course in upstate New York that led to a post-race discussion and war of words in the media. It appears as if feelings are still bruised as that war of words continued when the drivers arrived at Michigan International Speedway for this Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400.
Johnson indicated to reporters in Michigan that he believes Blaney should have contacted him during the week to offer an apology. The seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion says that Blaney’s failure to reach out to him only further enforces his view that the contact that sent his No. 48 Chevrolet spinning at WGI was no accident.
“We know what happened on the track … the drivers do,” Johnson told NASCAR.com. “There was a window of opportunity there from my standpoint for Ryan to handle it a certain way, to engage in at least the way that I know I have when it wasn’t on purpose, and I have yet to see or hear from him. So, that only validates my line of thought and how angry I was in the car.”
For his part, Blaney told reporters at MIS that his obligation to Johnson has been satisfied … and then some.
“I have nothing to apologize about,” Blaney declared. “He came down on me. I apologized to him right then and there, even though it was his fault. I have a lot of respect for Jimmie, or had a lot of respect. That’s why I kind of let him chew my ass out for a minute, minute-and-a-half or whatever he did, and I didn’t go back into him, especially when he put a finger in my face. Then his comments after we got done talking pretty much threw all that out the window. That respect is very little.”
The bigger reality, however, for both of these drivers is that each of them would be better served to focus on winning races rather than bickering with each other. With the championship system set up as it is now in NASCAR, no one will win a championship with top-15 finishes. Winning is essential and neither of these drivers has shown that they can do that on a consistent basis over the past couple of seasons.
Johnson is on the verge of missing this year’s version of the NASCAR Playoffs after being eliminated in the first round of the “post-season” one year ago. And more, the winner of 83 MENCS races over the course of his remarkable career hasn’t visited a victory lane since June 4, 2017 when he won at Dover International Speedway.
Johnson is currently tied with Ryan Newman for the final spot in the playoff standings with four races remaining in the so-called “regular season”.
But just making the playoffs is almost certainly not the goal of a seven-time champion. Undoubtedly the 43-year-old driver wants to contend for another title rather than simply being one of the sixteen entrants. But with only five top-5 finishes over his last 58 starts, Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports crew have not been in contention to actually challenge for a checkered flag very often of late.
Blaney, on the other hand, is not as close to missing the playoffs as Johnson but he is every bit as lacking in wins this season as his newfound rival. While the HMS organization that fields cars for Johnson has struggled until just recently when Alex Bowman and Chase Elliott have beaten the pack to the finish line, Blaney’s Team Penske cohorts have each won multiple times this season. And, both Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski are further up in the MENCS standing than their younger teammate.
Blaney began driving a Penske prepared machine at the beginning of 2018 and scored one win in his No. 12 Ford during that season. However, even that win was somewhat of a gift as Martin Truex, Jr. and, ironically, Johnson spun each other out on the last corner of the last lap in the inaugural “Roval” event at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
So far in 2019, Keselowski has scored three triumphs while 2018 MENCS champ Logano has earned two victories. Two third place results have been Blaney’s best efforts to this point in the season.
Contending for championships is the goal of powerful racing organizations such as Team Penske and Hendrick Motorsports so just making the playoffs then quietly being eliminated shortly afterwards is not what they look for. While Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Blaney may be upset with each at the moment, their focus needs to quickly shift to their performance on the track in order to live up to their own expectations as well as those of their teams, sponsors and fans.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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