Johnson denies any wrongdoing in Chase controversy
Five-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson denied any wrongdoing the Chase field-deciding race at Richmond International Raceway over the weekend that has been marred by controversy.
Johnson defended himself one day after fellow driver Clint Bowyer said his spinout at Richmond was no different than when a Johnson mishap brought out a caution earlier in the race.
“Clint brought it up from what I’ve been able to see and read,” Johnson said Wednesday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I think he was just having a bad day. And as things kept piling on, he just tried to suck someone else into the mix with him.”
Bowyer’s spin ended Ryan Newman’s bid to win the race and make the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field and instead helped Michael Waltrip Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. land a berth. NASCAR, however, determined that MWR had manipulated the race and replaced Truex with Newman in addition to punishing MWR.
The implication by Bowyer was that Johnson spun intentionally with 55 laps remaining to assist the Chase chances of Jeff Gordon, Johnson’s teammate at Hendrick Motorsports.
Johnson blamed a flat tire for his caution and pointed out correctly that Gordon already was on pit road when it occurred.
“If anyone has any questions, just go back and look at the race and you’ll see that our tire blowing was bad for the 24 (of driver Jeff Gordon), bad for the 5 (of driver Kasey Kahne, another Hendrick teammate) – bad for a lot of guys who were coming to pit road,” Johnson said. “The only silver lining for the 24 was that he was preserved on pit road, and was able to get the Lucky Dog (to get back on the lead lap). But even then, you have to start at the tail end (of the lead-lap cars). . There was no benefit.”
At Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Kyle Busch was asked what he thought of the scandal.
“I say you do whatever you’ve got to do to get your team in,” Busch said of the Chase. “If you’re in that position, and you have multi-team cars, that’s what they’re there for. Some people say I’m full of crap and you’re not supposed to manipulate the end of the race. Just let it play out as it plays out. Let the best man win.
“But, I was in the same position last year. There were ways it could have been manipulated and I could have gotten myself in the Chase. But I didn’t do it. And I missed the Chase.”
Johnson said NASCAR needs to use more officials and more technology resources, such as television replays and even in-car audio, to make better calls during the races.
“In the overall issue of officiating, I think we need to expect things and when we get to the Chase time of the year – and really we should have it all year – but NASCAR should have people staffed up instead of downsizing,” Johnson said. “Not only from the aspect of what we’re talking about right here, but also on restarts and a lot of other procedures that take place.
“It is tough for the (officials in the scoring) tower to take care of it all. They need other people, qualified people, other resources and technology to make these decisions.”
Johnson said if there was any question that the race needed to be stopped.
“If there is any question they need to stop the race immediately,” Johnson said. “Red flag. Pits are closed. Figure it out and make the best judgment that they can – because trying to go back on a Monday or a Tuesday to fix the situation, that is just too much. I’ve learned something about the ripple effect.”
Johnson also said he was bewildered with NASCAR’s non-call on the final restart, when television replays showed eventual race winner Carl Edwards, running second at the time, clearly beat leader Paul Menard to the start-finish line in a move that Johnson said was almost identical to one he was penalized for earlier in the season, costing him a chance of a win at Dover.
“We’ve been working hard to eliminate gray areas and we need to continue down that road,” Johnson added. “I’m shocked there wasn’t a call on it, plain and simple.”
Penske Racing may have cut a deal with Front Row Motorsports in the closing laps at Richmond for track position to help get Joey Logano in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
In radio communications reviewed Wednesday by the Associated Press for Front Row driver David Gilliland, his spotter informs the team of a request to let Logano pass him in the final laps of Saturday night’s race.
Logano was trying to claim a spot in the 12-driver Chase field. Both Penske and Front Row are Ford teams and thus considered partners.
A voice on the radio, believed to be crew chief Frank Kerr, asks who the request is coming from. The spotter replies: “We’ve got the big dog and all his cronies.”
Kerr then says: “Travis knows what I’ve been asking for,” an apparent reference to Penske Racing competition director Travis Geisler.
Logano passed Gilliland on a restart and finished 22nd, one spot ahead of Gilliland and good enough for a berth in the Chase field.
“Good job, good job, man,” the spotter says after the race. “Hopefully we’ll get something out of that.”
Statistics analyzed by AP also show Gilliland’s lap times dropped off by almost 1 second from the times he was running prior to the radio communication.
NASCAR has already punished Michael Waltrip Racing for manipulating the end of Saturday night’s race at Richmond.
Ryan Newman was on his way to a victory that would have given him the final spot in the Chase championship field. But Clint Bowyer spun to bring out a caution, setting in motion a chain of events that cost Newman the win and the Chase berth, cost Jeff Gordon a Chase berth and put Martin Truex Jr. and Logano in the final two spots.
NASCAR, concluding that MWR had manipulated the outcome of the race, put Newman in the Chase and bumped Truex. It also fined MWR $300,000 and suspended general manager Ty Norris indefinitely, Bowyer, Truex and Brian Vickers were docked 50 points each, and their crew chiefs were placed on probation through the end of the year.
Bowyer has denied the spin was deliberate. NASCAR could only prove one action — radio communication between Norris and Vickers in which a confused Vickers was told to pit as the field went green with three laps to go. The call was an effort to give Logano position on the track to pass Gordon in the standings and knock Gordon out of the Chase so that Truex could gain a Chase wild-card berth.
Now there may be more for NASCAR to look at ahead of Sunday’s race at Chicagoland — the first Chase race.