Jimmie Johnson leaves Watkins Glen upset with Ryan Blaney

Leave a comment

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — Jimmie Johnson was furious and speaking to Ryan Blaney after Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen International did little to temper Johnson’s frustration.

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.”

Xfinity playoff grid after Indianapolis

Leave a comment

Chase Briscoe‘s continued dominance of the Xfinity Series over the weekend on the Indianapolis road course ensured no additional drivers locked themselves into the 12-driver playoff field.

Through 13 races, Briscoe and four other drivers have qualified for the playoffs via race wins. Briscoe, who has five race wins, leads the field with 28 playoff points.

The last two drivers currently in the top 12 are Riley Herbst (+19 points above cutline) and Brandon Brown (+6 points).

The first four drivers outside the top 12 are Myatt Snider (-6), Alex Labbe (-32), Jeremy Clements (-49) and Josh Williams (-57).

Cup Series playoff grid after Brickyard 400

Leave a comment

With Kevin Harvick‘s victory Sunday in the Brickyard 400, no additional drivers locked themselves into the Cup Series playoff field.

But there was some movement at the bottom of the playoff grid as drivers jockey to make the 16-car field.

After he missed the race due to his COVID-19 diagnosis, Jimmie Johnson fell from 12th to 15th on the grid. He’s now 36 points above the cutline.

Matt DiBenedetto earned stage points in each stage before finishing 19th. He moved from 14th to 12th in the standings.

After earning stage points in both stages Sunday, Austin Dillon has cracked the top 16, moving up one spot. He has a six-point advantage over Erik Jones, who crashed out of Sunday’s race and had a 14-point advantage over Dillon entering the weekend.

With his ninth-place finish Sunday, Bubba Wallace is now within reach of the top 16. He sits at 19th, 42 points back from 16th.

Here’s the full playoff grid.

Oval or road course? Cup drivers address future of Brickyard 400

NASCAR
Getty Images
3 Comments

For 27 years, the Cup Series has competed at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with its annual Brickyard 400. All 27 of those races have been run exclusively on the track’s traditional 2.5-mile oval.

But following Saturday’s Xfinity Series race on the track’s 2.4-mile, 14-turn road course, an obvious question has been raised:

Should the Brickyard 400 remain on the oval, where passing is made difficult due to a combination of the rules package and the design of the track, or should moving it to the road course be considered?

“I would never vote for that,” Kevin Harvick declared last week before he won his third Brickyard 400 on Sunday. “I love everything about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. For me it is all about the oval … racing on the traditional track because for me I am kind of old school and I think that the Cup cars belong and really started the Brickyard 400.

“That was kind of what it was always meant to be, that iconic one-off, just the Cup cars event. I think with the Xfinity cars and the trucks and (ARCA Menards) cars and all the things that used to race at IRP (Indianapolis Raceway Park), it was a great event. Hopefully the road course can kind of take that role that IRP used to have and be able to bring the Indy cars and NASCAR together to add to that event at the Speedway. For me personally, I would never vote for the Cup cars to not run on the oval.”

Harvick is joined in that camp by his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, Aric Almirola, who finished third in Sunday’s race for his first top five and top-10 finish at Indy.

“I hope that we never stop running the oval,” Almirola said. “I just think it’s one of these places that regardless if it puts on the greatest race or not, it’s historic. It’s just a special place. It’s hard to explain when you don’t grow up a racer and you don’t aspire to come to race at Indy.

“But for me, I grew up watching stock car racing and dirt sprint car racing. I grew up watching Thursday Night Thunder, seeing so many guys go from USAC racing and sprint car racing to racing at Indy. It’s something I’ve always kept up with, always dreamed about getting the opportunity to race here. I get that opportunity now.”

Matt Kenseth, who finished second Sunday in his 20th Brickyard 400, said the Cup Series “should be” on the oval. But the Chip Ganassi Racing driver is open to the idea of Cup using the road course in some manner.

 “I think it’s one of those racetracks that we need to race at as long as we can,” Kenseth said of the oval. “It’s arguably the most famous speedway in the world, or one of them.

“To be able to race on the ovals with the Cup cars, which is the highest form of stock car racing here, we should be on the big track as well. I don’t think it would be bad to maybe test the road course and look into it, maybe do a second race on a road course, kind of like the IndyCars did this week.

“I really do think the Brickyard 400 has a lot of prestige. It’s not a southern race, but similar to the Southern 500, races like that. I think there’s a few of those races you sure would hate to see disappear.”

Crew chief describes ‘frightening’ scene on pit road at Indy

Leave a comment

Crew chief Todd Gordon said it was “frightening” to see rear tire changer Zach Price hit on pit road and then try to scoot away from cars during Sunday’s Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Price, who changes tires for Ryan Blaney’s team, was injured when he was struck by Brennan Poole’s car during a melee near the entrance of pit road early in the race.

Gordon, speaking Monday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, said indications are that Price’s injury was a “fracture someplace in the knee area.”

Price was treated and released from an Indianapolis hospital on Sunday night and traveled home with the team. Gordon said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that Price was scheduled to see a doctor Monday.

“Just hope to get him back and get him back going again and healthy,” Gordon said.

Gordon described what he saw as cars made contact.

“A really frightening moment for me,” he said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I was really terrorized when I saw (Price) drag himself back across the pit box arms only for a while there. As the situation kind of progressed and the medical staff was working with him, I could see in his face he was better off than I thought he was to start with.

“Fortunate that the guys got up and got at least in the air. The jackman (Graham Stoddard) got on top of the car. Just one of those terrible situations. I felt like those accidents happened mid-pit road. That’s why I picked way back there to be behind it.”

Said Justin Allgaier, who was involved in the accident on pit road that led to six cars eventually being eliminated:  “The No. 15 (Poole) actually got in the back of me. I didn’t know if I got the gentleman on (Blaney’s pit crew) or not. Once the wreck started happening in front of us and we all got bottled-up there, one car after another were getting run into.”

Indianapolis’ pit road is the most narrow of all the tracks the Cup Series races. The two travel lanes are 24 feet wide. The pit stall for each team is 15 feet wide.