Jimmie Johnson and Brian Vickers are good friends but on Sunday Vickers took away another chance for Johnson to win a race.
[media-credit name=”Barry Albert” align=”alignright” width=”232″][/media-credit]Vickers appeared to be in 95 percent of the cautions on Sunday as he hit everything but the pace car. The official count was actually five of the 18 cautions as he was damaged early in the event and went on a no holds barred mission. If his competition wasn’t giving him a dose of retaliation, he was making sure they knew how he felt.
“At the end it was frustrating to see the same few cars over and over with the caution,” said Johnson. “That was something we certainly didn’t want to see.”
Johnson was leading by over a second with less than 10 laps to go when Vickers spun after trying to retaliate against Matt Kenseth. On the restart with two laps to go eventual winner Tony Stewart passed Johnson. Flash back to Talladega in 2006 when Vickers ended up wrecking Johnson as they tried to pass Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the win on the final lap. At that time, Johnson and Vickers were teammates, unlike on Sunday.
But in both of these cases, it has the potential to impact the championship. By finishing second on Sunday, Johnson wasn’t able to take home a few more valuable points that come with a W. Instead he leaves Martinsville now sixth in points but 43 markers out of the lead.
“I certainly understand that if you’re unfairly wrecked, regardless of who that person is, there’s a chance retaliation is going to happen,” Johnson said. “After a fourth, fifth time with the same car in the crash, you start thinking about maybe you’re the problem. Something is going on. You’re having a bad day. You need to stop crashing for whatever reason.”
Many observers agreed. Every time the yellow flag flew and the No. 83 was involved a rumble of, “not again” rose. Not even halfway in the race, some were saying that he should have been parked or just gone to the garage long ago. Instead Vickers kept on and played a role in the finish for not just Johnson but a few other drivers as well.
“When you’re on the racetrack and someone wrongs you, you have some decisions to make in how you want to handle that,” said Johnson. “Each man’s decision how they want to handle it. I don’t agree with the way things were handled at the end. Tony Stewart is sitting in victory lane smiling and he’s real happy it turned out that way.”
The caution isn’t the only reason that Johnson didn’t win the race, as he acknowledges that he didn’t get the restart that he wanted. Overall though, that was not the Martinsville race that many were expecting. Bumping and banging are what make short tracks excited and favorites of fans and drivers, but 18 cautions on the day and drivers blatantly running over each other, some were rubbed the wrong way. No pun intended.
At the end of 500 laps there were 21 cars on the lead lap but that’s not to say that everyone escaped the paperclip without damage. The first caution flew on lap seven when Dale Earnhardt Jr. hit the curb and then Kurt Busch as others piled in behind. Johnson narrowly avoided that accident.
From there it was every bit of “boys, have at it” as drivers did very little giving and all taking. Johnson very well could have at the end when Stewart passed him but says that he doesn’t run over people in order to get a position. That came into play as Johnson raced against Stewart and teammate Jeff Gordon on the final restart.
“At the end of these races you’re not going to blatantly drive over the top of a teammate,” Johnson said, “but you’re going to go race and race as you always do. When I saw the 24 lined up behind me, I knew he had taken tires earlier. Knew how fast his car was in the short run. When I restarted, I was actually a little more concerned with the 24 than I was the 14. I was hopeful to clear the 14 off of two, Jeff and Tony would be racing side-by-side, I could get distance on those two.”
It didn’t end up working as Johnson had planned. And while he thought about taking a shot at Stewart, Johnson backed off and will head toward the final three races of the season with the next two tracks being ones where he’s visited victory lane before.
“When I was inside of Tony, I went down in the corner and thought that eight tires would be a lot better than four,” said Johnson. “I changed my mind. With where he is in the points, what’s going on, the fact we raced throughout the today, he never touched me, I had a hard time doing that.”