Martin Truex Jr. explains frustration with Jimmie Johnson about Roval finish

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DOVER, Del. – Martin Truex Jr. explained his anger Saturday with Jimmie Johnson over Johnson’s actions on the final lap of last weekend’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

“I was mad, of course,” Truex told NBCSN during a morning practice session that was canceled by rain. “It’s natural. It’s human to get mad in situations like that. That was a big race. That was a big day. We put so much effort into that and there were so many things surrounding that race that made it special to me and reasons that I wanted to win, mostly for my guys and the effort they put in, so yea, I was mad about the outcome and the way it went down.

“I was not mad at all, and I think people got the wrong impression, I was not mad at all about Jimmie trying to win. That’s his job. That’s what we all try to do every single weekend. He was trying to win the race. I get that.

“I was mad that he screwed up. I told him. I said, ‘I give you a lane,’ I got tight in Turn 4, NASCAR Turn 4 (on the oval). I was like, well I’m not going to slow down and block him, brake check him, whatever. I’m going to give him the inside lane because I don’t want him on my right side because if I give him the right side, he’s probably going to clean me out. I gave myself the best opportunity to win.”

Instead, Johnson locked his brakes entering the final chicane, spun and then made contact with Truex. Instead of winning – and scoring five playoff points – Truex finished 14th. Johnson fell from second to eighth and then was eliminated from title contention when Kyle Larson passed the stalled car of Jeffrey Earnhardt‘s less than 100 yards from the finish line. That put Larson, Aric Almirola and Johnson into a three-way tie for the final two playoff spots. Larson and Almirola advanced via the tiebreaker (best result in that round).

Johnson said he made a mistake in that chicane.

Friday, Johnson said that he would have done the same thing but made a couple of changes.

Jimmie Johnson: ‘My desire to win has never been stronger’

Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
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DOVER, Del. — Jimmie Johnson would go for the win entering the final chicane at the Charlotte Roval if he had to do it again.

“I still have got to make that move,” Johnson said Friday at Dover International Speedway. “I still got to try for it.

“I would have made a small brake bias adjustment, and I think I would have modulated the brakes a little bit different entering the corner. Looking back, I was a little lower than I typically was entering that braking zone and had a bit more steering wheel input in the car and that’s initially why the left front locked up.

“I would change a couple of things, but I don’t know how I don’t go for it.”

Even though Johnson was in a position to advance to the second round of the playoffs, he attempted to maneuver around leader Martin Truex Jr. on the final lap. Johnson spun after his brakes locked, lost six positions and finished eighth.

“It wasn’t this desperate move to try to pass him in that braking zone,” Johnson said. “My intent was to be alongside of him, one side or the other because I felt that would have tripped him enough to where I had a real shot on the exit of the corner to the start/finish line.”

Johnson was eliminated from title contention when Kyle Larson passed Jeffrey Earnhardt’s stalled car less than 100 yards from the finish line. That was the one position Larson needed to forge a three-way tie for the final two transfer spots with Aric Almirola and Johnson. Larson and Almirola advanced via a tiebreaker (best finish in the first round).

The result has provided a week’s worth of second-guessing of Johnson and the No. 48 team.

“I’ve thought about it a lot and what I would do differently,” he said. “I would just like to learn from my mistakes. I do feel bad for my team and the fact that we didn’t advance and how much we put into that, but countless text messages, phone calls, walking though the shop, they’ve all supported my decision to race for the win.

“The other piece that weighs on me … I feel bad for Martin and that No. 78 team. I hate that my mistake affected them and could impact their season to some degree. I don’t like that aspect to it, but it is racing and I know in my heart that it was a legitimate attempt at winning the race and a mistake was made. I didn’t go in there to try to move him out of the way and wreck him and create all of this havoc. I’ve moved on and did have a good week but there are a couple of things that still linger.”

Johnson comes to a track where he’s won a record 11 times and is the site of his most recent victory in June 2017.

“My desire to win has never been stronger,” said Johnson, who is on a career-long 52-race winless streak. “I’m happy last week that people were able to see that.

“But when I’ve been criticized about my commitment and desire while running 20th, this is the same fire has been there. I think it’s unfair to be judged by the performance on track. It’s a collective group that puts the car in position to win.

“We’re at my favorite race track and absolutely do I want to win the race. I will do everything in my power to win the race, but it takes a collective group to have the car, the pit stops, the strategy and I don’t know if this weekend is that weekend. But if there is a track I can make up a tenth (of a second) or two for the team, this would be one of them.”

Friday 5: Jeffrey Earnhardt is tired of being ‘bullied’ on the track

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Jeffrey Earnhardt is tired of being “bullied” on the track and says he’s “not going to take shit” from other competitors.

Earnhardt, who has had an indirect role in key moments in recent races, made his comments Wednesday night on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Dialed In” show.

“You don’t want to feel used, and I feel like we have been used here lately,” Earnhardt told host Claire B. Lang. “We’re tired of being the victims. Whether we start making the other people the victims, whatever it takes, but we don’t want to keep feeling like we’re being bullied and we feel like we are right now.”

Earnhardt’s latest frustration is with Daniel Hemric. They raced together into the final chicane of last weekend’s race at the Charlotte Roval. Earnhardt’s car spun after contact from Hemric’s car.

Earnhardt’s car stalled less than 100 yards from the finish line. That allowed Kyle Larson’s wrecked car to pass him and gain the one position he needed to advance to the second round, which begins this weekend at Dover International Speedway.

“I like to think that I race clean and give people room and then they do shit like that, it gets under your skin,” Earnhardt said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio about the contact from Hemric.

This marked the third time in the last four races that Earnhardt has had an impact on a race.

At Indianapolis, he and Landon Cassill wrecked, setting up the final caution that changed the race’s outcome.

Of that incident, Earnhardt said: “We went into the corner and his story and my story are two different things.”

That caution eliminated Denny Hamlin’s lead and allowed Brad Keselowski to pass Hamlin coming to the white flag and win.

A frustrated Hamlin said afterward: “Just those meaningless cautions at the end by drivers multiple laps down. What they’re doing crashing with three laps to go, I have no idea. It cost us the race.”

Earnhardt did not appreciate Hamlin’s comments.

“The meaningless driver comment was just not smart,” Earnhardt told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “It shows a lack of respect for me or anyone else that are back there that are fighting to make a career out of this.”

At Richmond, Earnhardt caused the only caution of the race — other than the two stage breaks — after contact from Matt Kenseth. NASCAR penalized Kenseth for a commitment line violation and speeding entering the pits on Lap 321. His contact with Earnhardt led to a caution at Lap 327.

On the radio after the incident, Kenseth said: “Tell him, my bad. I drug up the splitter and hit. My bad. Tell him I’m sorry about that.”

Earnhardt was frustrated about that incident as well.

“He can say he was on the splitter if he wants … I don’t agree with what he says,” Earnhardt said.

“It does suck. These guys that feel they can pick on us and use us as a crutch to make their day better. Who knows. There have been several races we didn’t fire off that great, I was wishing for a caution. Maybe I’ll start doing the same. Maybe I’ll use them to get a caution so we can come in and work on our car and make it better.”

2. Manufacturer support

Throughout NASCAR’s explanation this week for deciding on a 2019 rules package that includes a tapered spacer to limit engines to 550 horsepower at many big tracks and 750 horsepower at other tracks was how that could help entice more manufacturers to enter the sport.

It’s no secret that NASCAR would like at least another manufacturer at the Cup level.

“It’s not just today,” Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said about the impact of the new rules package. “It kind of falls into where we want to go with the next Gen car.

“A lot of that is going to be based on new technology in the car and a lot of that is going to be based on efficiencies, potentially for the team owners, (manufacturers), putting an engine in place from a horsepower level that could be more relevant in the future that could attract new (manufacturers), which is key and make the owners that we have in this sport healthier and also attract new owners.”

A new manufacturer or manufacturers could be critical to the sport. Even with the charter system, teams must still rely heavily on sponsorship to fund teams. Additional manufacturers could provide greater financial support for charter teams and potentially balance the competition.

Toyota, which backs five teams, has won 12 of 29 races this season. Ford, which backs more than twice as many teams as Toyota, has won 15 of 29 races. Chevrolet has two wins this season (Austin Dillon in the Daytona 500 and Chase Elliott at Watkins Glen).

O’Donnell said that NASCAR is hearing from manufacturers investigating the series.

“Lot more of our calls are being answered, a lot more meetings are taking place with potential new (manufacturers),” he said. “I think where we landed on 2019 sets us up well for the immediate future but long-term as well.”

We’ll find out.

3. Step forward

Chase Briscoe’s victory in last weekend’s Xfinity race at the Charlotte Roval was another key moment for Ford and its driver development program.

Briscoe was the first driver signed to the multi-tiered program Ford announced in January 2017.

Briscoe and Austin Cindric joined Brad Keselowski Racing’s Camping World Truck Series team in 2017. Each won a race.

Cindric is in the Xfinity playoffs this season. Briscoe isn’t because he’s not running the full schedule. Other Ford development drivers are Cole Custer, who also is in the Xfinity playoffs and has one career series win, and Ty Majeski.

“It won’t pay dividends until they actually get to the Cup level because that’s ultimately the goal of what we want to do,” said Mark Rushbrook, Global Director, Ford Performance, of the driver development program. “But we are happy with the start that we’ve had to our development program over the last two years and look forward to continuing to expand that,”

4. Betting at the track

With sports betting legal in Delaware, fans will be able to bet for the first time at a NASCAR track this weekend.

Dover International Speedway will have two kiosks accepting sports bets.

Sunday’s race will have extra gambling options, including bets on driver vs. driver, number of cautions and if the winning car number is an even number or odd number, among other prop bets.

Betting won’t be limited to Saturday’s Xfinity and Sunday’s Cup race. Fans can bet on pro football, baseball, college football, MMA and other sports at the kiosks.

5. Say what?

Consider this: Jimmie Johnson has more wins at Dover (11) than 28 other Cup drivers entered this weekend have in their Cup career.

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12 questions to ponder for Round of 12

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1. Will the Big 3 dominate this round?

They will at Dover. Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex have combined to win four of the last six Dover races. Twice members of this group finished first and second at this track in that time. Truex has four consecutive top-five finishes there, including one win.

The question becomes Talladega, the middle race of the round. Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano have combined to win five of the last seven races there.

The round ends at Kansas. The Big 3 have combined to win each of the last five races there.

So expect to see a lot of Harvick, Truex and Busch running toward the front, particularly at Dover and Kansas.

2. Are we seeing the emergence of Team Penske as a title threat?

Ryan Blaney’s surprise win at the Charlotte Roval gives Team Penske four victories in the last five races.

To put that into perspective: Team Penske had four wins in the 58 races before its recent streak.

That’s a nice run for Team Penske but let’s see what Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Blaney can do against the Big 3 this weekend at Dover and later in the round at Kansas Speedway. Those will be key tracks. If Team Penske can beat the Big 3 there, than it might be time to say this group could crash the Big 3’s get together in Miami.

3. What will happen next to Kyle Larson?

Larson looked to be one of the main title contenders last year until this round when a blown engine at Kansas prevented him from advancing. He wasn’t strong in this round last year, placing 10th on the Charlotte oval (he finished behind seven of the other 11 playoff drivers) and 13th at Talladega.

In a year where he’s winless but been the runner-up six times, he needed a wild set of circumstances — Jimmie Johnson spinning while battling for the lead on the last chicane and Jeffrey Earnhardt being spun and unable to continue less than 100 yards from the finish line — to advance to the second round.

Larson has lamented in the past how luck has not gone his way, particularly in the playoffs.

Will last week’s remarkable finish lead this team deeper into the playoffs, or will fate strike a cruel blow to the team’s playoff hopes in this round?

4. What type of warning sign would be apropos for this round?

Be careful in the final stage. In the opening round, six of the 13 cautions that took place in the final stage at Las Vegas, Richmond and the Charlotte Roval involved at least one playoff contender.

5. What’s something to keep an eye on for the rest of the playoffs?

Pit road. Penalties could play a key role in who advances.

Uncontrolled tire violations have been called seven times in the playoffs. Five of those infractions have been committed by playoff teams.

“I feel like if they stay in the box, what’s the big deal? I think our fans want to see hard racing,” said Martin Truex Jr., whose team was penalized for an uncontrolled tire at Richmond. “They want to see the guys that are up front battling, not going to the rear once every two or three weeks for a tire sitting there with a guy that’s a foot too far away from it. I don’t agree with it. I think we should look at it, but I don’t make the rules.”

6. Stewart-Haas Racing had all four of its drivers advance. How many can get to the next round?

Kevin Harvick is among the favorites to go all the way to Miami. Kurt Busch has been consistent. His 39 stage points in the playoffs rank second to Martin Truex Jr.’s 45 stage points.

Clint Bowyer was outside the cutline going into the race at the Charlotte Roval and advanced. Aric Almirola advanced via a tiebreaker. Almirola’s team has had speed at times but not been able to put together a whole race often. He enters this round seeded 11th of the 12 drivers.

Odds are against all four advancing. With the expectation that the Big 3 — Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. — advance, that leaves a small margin for error for SHR to have all four teams move into the third round.

7. What about Hendrick Motorsports?

Jimmie Johnson is gone, but Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman remain in the playoffs.

Both Elliott (ninth) and Bowman (12th) start the round outside the cutoff to advance to the next round.

Elliott has eight top-10 finishes in the last eight races and is a good candidate to advance. Bowman has three top-10 finishes in the last 10 races. That won’t be good enough to keep going.

8. Who could be an X factor?

It’s remarkable how Jeffrey Earnhardt has played a key role lately.

In the regular-season finale, he was involved in a late-race incident with Landon Cassill that caused the final caution and allowed Brad Keselowski to pass Denny Hamlin for the win.

At Richmond, a caution for Earnhardt was the only yellow other than the two stage breaks. He spun after he was hit by Matt Kenseth. The caution came after Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch and Ryan Blaney had pitted, putting them two laps down with less than 80 laps to go. None of those three drivers finished in the top 15.

At the Charlotte Roval, Earnhardt spun off the final turn of the final lap after contact from Daniel Hemric. Earnhardt was stalled less than 100 yards from the finish line but couldn’t get his car restarted. Kyle Larson, running well off the pace, blew a tire and hit the wall in Turn 4 of the oval and then hit the wall after exiting the final chicane before passing Earnhardt. That one position — and one point — was the difference in Larson advancing to this round.

9. An average of 15 cars was eliminated by accidents in the last three Talladega races. Do you take the over or under?

If it helps you decide, 24 cars were eliminated by accident in last year’s playoff race there. Take the over.

10. Will this round match the drama of the first round?

With Talladega coming up, it certainly could. No one expected Las Vegas to have such fireworks. Maybe that happens at Dover or Kansas in this round.

11. Who advances?

Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney.

12. Who is eliminated?

Alex Bowman, Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano and Aric Almirola.

Bump & Run: Debating Jimmie Johnson’s move; who to watch in Round of 12

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Are you good with Jimmie Johnson’s decision to go for the win, which led to his spin and cost him a chance to advance to the next round? 

Nate Ryan: Initially, it made little sense, but the more I ponder it, the easier the move becomes to justify. The No. 48 isn’t racing just to make the Round of 12, it’s championship or bust every year, and the five playoff points from that win would have increased the very slim odds of advancing through the next two rounds. As Jeff Burton said Saturday on Victory Lap, going for the win trumped playing it safe for advancement because the validation and momentum would mean much more than remaining winless but still in a deep hole for the next three races. (Now if Johnson wins at Dover, I reserve the right to revisit this answer.)

Dustin Long: Yes. As Nate notes, this is about the championship and those five playoff points for the win could have been valuable in helping Johnson advance throughout the playoffs. With such a thin margin for error, those points were as valuable as a checkered flag for a team that hadn’t won in more than a year. When the opportunity is there, you seize it.

Daniel McFadin: Heck yeah. Sure, he was locked into Round 2 when he entered Turn 16, but he hadn’t won in 51 races. I can’t remember seeing Johnson make that kind of move before, but we’ve also never seen Johnson that desperate for a win before. I would have been shocked if he hadn’t made that move.

Dan Beaver: Even if he advanced, Jimmie Johnson was not going very far in the playoffs. Winning and erasing his 51-race losing streak was much more important to the success of this team – so his priorities were right. The pass itself did not have a ghost of a chance, so I expected more car control from a seven-time champion.

Who is a driver you will watch closely in the second round?

Nate Ryan: Kyle Larson. Now that he has survived a major scare, he becomes a more dangerous threat

Dustin Long: Ryan Blaney. He said the first round was going to be tough for him and his team. Now let’s see what they can do in these upcoming races.

Daniel McFadin: Kevin Harvick. The round features two tracks – Dover and Kansas – where he won earlier this year. Due to his DNF at Las Vegas, we haven’t seen him display dominate race winning speed on an intermediate track since his Michigan victory.

Dan Beaver: Chase Elliott: Having survived a close call in Round 1, he is going to be much more prepared at Dover and Kansas – races that are in his control. I expect he will challenge for the win in both.

Do all of the Big 3 — Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. — advance to the next round?

Nate Ryan: Yes. They remain on a collision course for Miami.

Dustin Long: Yes. They’ll be dominant at Dover and Kansas and will get through Talladega.

Daniel McFadin: I don’t think so. I believe Talladega will put enough of a dent in one of their point situations that it will haunt them at Kansas. My guess: Truex.

Dan Beaver: Yes. Their bonus point lead over eighth is enough to give them an easy pass even with one mulligan.

What has been the finish of the year in Cup so far? The Roval finish? Chicagland duel between Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch? Brad Keselowski’s battle with Denny Hamlin at Indianapolis? Or some other race?

Nate Ryan: 2018 finishes, ranked: 

1. Chicagoland Speedway

2. Daytona 500

3. Roval

4. Watkins Glen

5. Brickyard

Dustin Long: The Kyle Busch-Kyle Larson duel at Chicagoland remains the finish of the year for the beating and banging on the last lap at the 1.5-mile track. Plus it gave us “Slide Job!”

Daniel McFadin: Hands down the Roval. The two leaders going into the final two turns didn’t win, instead giving it to the third-place car. And Kyle Larson’s “I think I can, I think I can” charge in a damaged car to pass Jeffrey Earnhardt and get into Round 2 seals the deal.

Dan Beaver: I’d have to go with the Busch/Larson battle at Chicagoland since they both finished the race in the top two spots. I’d give honorable mentions to last week’s Charlotte road race and the Daytona 500 for the last-lap action.