Seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, Jimmie Johnson, and Team Penske driver, Ryan Blaney had words after an on-track altercation at Watkins Glen on Sunday.
A lot of things were at play for Johnson on Sunday. The former champ is currently fighting for a spot the playoffs. If he doesn’t make it, it will be the first time he has missed the postseason since NASCAR implemented the structure in 2004. Just last week, in the midst of this battle, it was also announced he would have a new crew chief. It would make his second crew chief this year, after having only one for his entire Cup series career prior to the 2019 season.
During the final stage of the event, while battling Blaney, the two made contact spinning out Johnson. Johnson explained the incident from his perspective and his conversation with Blaney after the race. “He just drove through me in the carousel. I tried to hear what he was trying to say…but his lips were quivering so bad when he came to speak,” said Johsnon. “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 tight now, so clearly not happy with his actions”.
Johnson did not stop there, however. Johnson, under the pressure of possibly not making the playoffs for the first time, and with apparent confidence in the performance of his new crew chief seemed to send a veiled message to Blaney. “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,” said Johnson.
Ryan Blaney, who is also in playoff contention, had a much different take on the incident. “It was just racing. He had old tires. They just did gas only 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,” said Blaney. “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.”
In the end, Blaney rallied to score a fifth-place finish, while Johnson settled for 19th. While Johnson did score much needed stage points, his poor finish now has him only one point ahead of Ryan Newman for the final playoff spot. Blaney, who has yet to win this season, is currently 89 points above the cutoff.