April 19 — Matt Kenseth seems to be off the hook as Jeff Gordon’s top object of ire as the four-time champion continues to come up short in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Instead, surprisingly it was Gordon’s teammate Jimmie Johnson who was responsible for irritating a focused Gordon the most during the running of Monday’s Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway, one eventually won by Denny Hamlin.
Johnson, long the guy tabbed at fault for snatching wins and championships from Gordon in the last decade, earned Gordon’s wrath Monday on lap 241 of 334 when the Hendrick Motorsports duo tangled in a battle for the lead off of turn four. Gordon, with a faster Chevrolet much of day, worked to Johnson’s bumper and then inside him before Johnson got a little loose.
Johnson appeared to chase his No. 48 down the track one lane, and two machines fabricated side-by-side in the same Charlotte shop made door-to-door contact. Johnson caught the worst of the contact as his left-front fender bent in and he eventually made a trip to pit road for a flat left-front tire.
Gordon, meanwhile, offered what turned out be his second-most aggressive over-the-radio thought of the day.
“Four time’s a little upset!” said Gordon in a mocking tone over his in-car radio feed after continuing on to the lead. “He just wants to be treated different than everybody else.”
Gordon’s greatest anger over the radio came when he offered a expletive-laced snap judgment of Tony Stewart’s driving moves after they were involved in the race-changing nine-car pileup with 16 laps to go. Gordon had led a race-high 124 laps and appeared to be sailing towards a victory before David Reutimann’s expired and flaming engine brought out a caution with 22 laps left.
Gordon restarted in eighth position after a relatively slow four-tire stop. As Hamlin and Kyle Busch got out ahead, Gordon, Stewart, Johnson and others were jumbled behind them, and after touching a couple of times, Gordon and Stewart went into the outside wall, triggering the big wreck.
“That f***** Stewart drove f****** into us when he knew the 48 was there!” Gordon shouted on his radio.
He immediately got out of his car and approached Stewart as he emerged, but Stewart took blame for the accident and they did not appear to be in conflict.
But the Johnson incident — one that both were specifically asked about after the race — revealed that Gordon’s fire to beat Johnson this season is burning as hot, if not hotter, than ever.
“He wasn’t fast enough and my car was just so good I could just get right to his bumper and he got loose,” said Gordon. “I guess he thought I was being too aggressive. I don’t know, he just drove into my door. It ended up costing him.”
Gordon, who has now gone 36 races without a win, noted that his extra aggressiveness in making the lap 241 pass correlated with his strong race car — a piece that led six separate times Monday.
“When you have a race car like that, you don’t have teammates and friends out there and (you) race hard,” Gordon said. “That is what Jimmie has had.”
Both Johnson and Gordon used the word “disappointed” to describe how each had raced one another, with Johnson attempting to settle the dispute from being the major story this week. He also cautioned about reading too much into in-car radio traffic.
“Don’t get the headline writers out saying trouble at HMS, because it’s really no big deal,” said Johnson. “And we all know from scanning during the race, there are a lot of colorful things said on that racetrack about teammates and other drivers and all that kind of stuff.”
That being said, the four-time and defending champion did acknowledge that this week he’d try to sort things out with Gordon, long a friend as well as co-car owner of the No. 48 car.
“We’ll get it taken care of at the shop and during the week, and come back to the next race and do it again,” Johnson said. “I think we are both pretty frustrated with how we have been racing each other.”
It was Johnson, just as in multiple races in the last few years, who finished the day ahead of Gordon after nearly chasing Hamlin down to steal the win in the closing laps. Johnson wound up 2nd, while Gordon’s name showed up in the results sheet at 32nd.
But just as he was after dominating in March at Las Vegas before Johnson slipped by for the win, Gordon also saw the bright side.
“I am just excited that we have something to race with all of these guys out here right now,” said Gordon.
Be sure to catch our full race recap from Texas complete with in-car audio, post race audio, stats and photos here.