Nineteenth wasn’t what Jimmie Johnson wanted in his first race with Cliff Daniels as his crew chief, but solid runs in the first two stages of Sunday’s GoBowling at The Glen were enough to lift the seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion into a tie for 16th in the series standings, the last spot eligible for the postseason Playoffs.
Johnson started the race eighth and finished sixth in the first stage. In the second stage he was 10th, ultimately scoring enough points to tie 25th-place finisher Ryan Newman in the standings with four races left before the Playoff field is decided.
On Lap 61, with an “assist” from Ryan Blaney, Johnson backed into the tire barrier near the entrance to the carousel but was able to continue.
“He just drove through me in the carousel,” Johnson said of the contact with Blaney’s Ford. “I tried to hear what he was trying to say…but his lips were quivering so bad when he came to speak (after the race). I don’t know if he was nervous or scared or both…I don’t know what the problem is. He just drove through me and spun me out.
“And clearly that has big implications with what we are trying to do for the Playoffs right now, so clearly not happy with his actions. We scored points in both stages, which was nice. We were setting up for top-eight to top-10 and got drove through. He claims it was just racing. So I can hardly wait to go racing. Everybody stay tuned.”
Blaney, who is 10th in points and comfortably in the Playoff grid after a fifth-place finish, took issue with Johnson’s assessment.
“It was just racing,” Blaney asserted. “He had old tires. They just did gas only (on the previous pit stop), and he was pretty slow, and I passed 10 guys off the bus stop all day. He hit the third curb pretty bad and got in that position, and he was up, and I had a good run. I was there. He left probably a lane-and-a-quarter or so, and I took it.
“At first, he didn’t turn down like I thought he knew I was there, and then he kept coming. I tried to check up, and it was just too late. I mean, obviously, I didn’t mean to spin him out. I don’t want to do that. It’s obviously an accident, but he was upset, and I can’t blame him for being upset about it. We’re just racing hard, and I thought there was a lane there, and it just closed.”
Newman, who entered Sunday’s race 12 points ahead of Johnson, had trouble in the final stage. On lap 50, he pitted from 15th with a flat tire and lost a lap. Shortly thereafter, Newman returned to pit road with a loose wheel. Though he regained the lead lap as the highest scored lapped car under caution for Johnson’s collision with the tire barrier, Newman finished the race mired in 25th.
Clint Bowyer came home 20th after finishing fourth in Stage 2, but the driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford maintained a 12-point edge over Johnson and Newman as the series heads for Michigan International Speedway.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!