Johnson was upset with Blaney for wrecking him and costing Johnson several positions as he seeks to make the playoffs. He left Watkins Glen holding the final playoff spot only by a tiebreaker over Ryan Newman.
After the race, Johnson approached Blaney on pit road to discuss their incident.“I couldn’t hear what he was saying, his lips were quivering so bad that he can’t even speak. I guess he was nervous or scared or both, I don’t know what the hell the problem is,” Johnson told NBCSN. “He just drove through me and spun us out and it clearly has big implications on what we’re trying to do for the playoffs right now. Clearly not happy with his actions there.”
Blaney said of the contact with Johnson: “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 and he hit the third curb pretty bad and it got him out of position and he was up and I had a good run. I was there. He left probably a lane and a quarter or so. I took it.
“At first he didn’t turn down. I thought he knew I was there. I tried to check up and it was too late. Obviously, I didn’t mean to spin him out. I don’t want to do that. It was obviously an accident. He was upset, and I can’t blame him for being upset about it.”
As for how things were left after their conversation, Blaney said: “He’s angry. I can’t blame him for being angry. He’s trying to get into the playoffs right now and have good runs. Trust me, the last guy I want to spin out is Jimmie. We always race great together. I’ve looked up to him for a long time and still do.”
Their issues took place with less than 30 laps in the 90-lap race.
Johnson pitted on Lap 59 for fuel only, trying a different strategy that most of the field. The caution came out on Lap 63 for their incident and contact between Kyle Busch and Bubba Wallace. Blaney’s contact sent Johnson into the tire barrier.
Johnson went on to finish 19th and holds the final playoff spot with four races to go in the regular season. Johnson is tied with Newman for that spot but owns it because he holds the tiebreaker over Newman with the best finish this year (Johnson’s best finish is third at Daytona in July compared to Newman’s best finish of fifth in that same race).
Sunday’s race marked the debut of Cliff Daniels as Johnson’s crew chief. Hendrick Motorsports announced Monday that Daniels, who was Johnson’s lead engineer when he won the 2016 title, would take over as crew chief.
Daniels talked often to Johnson on the radio, encouraging his driver throughout the race’s ups and downs.
“A lot of it is who I am,” Daniels said of his approach on the radio. “A lot of it is Jimmie and I know how to feed off each other at different stages in the race even though I haven’t been really a voice in his ear. We have pretty extensive debriefs and have for years. We replay through different stages of the race. How things are going, what type of communication he likes to hear.
“Plus, when you’re out there and fighting in 19th, it can be discouraging if you’re him. I just wanted to keep him pumped up and moving forward.”