Well, look what we have here! Mr. Clean, Jimmie Johnson, finds himself embroiled in a little controversy. Seems his team’s decision to pit and leave dancing partner Dale Earnhardt Jr. out on the track has caused him enough grief on the “Twittersphere” to elicit a response from Ol’ “Five Time”….
“I didn't leave Jr hanging, you people are crazy. When my crew tells me to pit, I pit. Steve and Chad sort out the details
And if you think either of us could have won from 25th, which is where we were at the caution, you're even more crazy.”
Welcome to the club, Jimmie. You now join Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Mark Martin as those who have drawn the ire of “The Nation.”
The question I have is this: should this have surprised anybody?
If you ask me, all this yap-yap about “dance partners” and “teammates” by the broadcast media is as overhyped as the “Big Three” in Miami. At the end of the day, auto racing is an individual sport. Junior didn’t get extra points for pushing Jimmie to the checkered flag at Talladega, and the idea one would break away from another was an eventuality.
What’s more, at this juncture of the season, Johnson isn’t a whole better off than “Lil E.” At the moment, he only has the one victory, and he’s just not dominating like we’ve seen him do before. In fact, Earnhardt is right on his heels in seventh, so Jimmie has bigger fish to fry than supporting his teammate.
Dance partners at restrictor plate tracks is as tenuous as honor among thieves. You know the stars are in a funky alignment when Kyle “Rowdy” Busch and “Bad” Brad Keselowski are drafting, and Tony Stewart is working with David Gilliland. As attrition does its job on the track, you’ll take your dance partner where you can find them. I would surely think that- given Junior’s mastery of the draft- he could have easily hooked up with Jeff Burton or any number of other drivers around him.
There’s nothing to verify that Jimmie Johnson is a truly bad teammate, but there’s little evidence to suggest that the 48 team gives as much as they get. Ask Mark Martin. I thought is was some nerve on the 48’s part to ask the 5 team to swap first and second place at Chicagoland in 2009 when it was becoming apparent the two would compete for a title. Martin gave way, but not before expressing a bit of irritation. He’s a better man than me. I would have told the champ to come on down here and get your own freakin’ bonus points!
If this is on anyone, it’s Johnson’s crew chief Chad Knaus. There’s no denying his talent for his job, but he comes across as being as cold as Travis Kvapil’s chances of winning the Chase.
It’s one thing if I get assurances of help from Mark Martin, or David Ragan’s new BFF Matt Kenseth. They may be among a very small handful I would really count on to not ditch me at the end. Otherwise, fuhgeddaboudit. The irony of this is if Junior promised you a push to Victory Lane, there’s about 99 percent chance you’d get it.
It’s a pretty back-handed compliment, but I give Johnson credit for doing what a racer is supposed to do. There’s former Coach Herm Edwards in my ear again. “You play…to win…the game. Hello?”
Personally, I think all those front runners who hung in the back like a couple of mischievous teens at church got their just desserts. Johnson wound up 20th, Earnhardt 19th and Martin was 33rd. Gordon was the only real beneficiary of the HMS “plan.”
Finally, it’s also telling that Earnhardt’s frustrations were aimed at restrictor plate racing, rather than at Jimmie Johnson. Junior’s frustrated that he needs to be dependent on anyone outside his team to win a race, and that’s pretty much how most drivers feel.
Answering my own question, I don’t know that I’d rate Jimmie Johnson as a racing saint, but I sure don’t think the guy is a bad teammate. I’m not a fan, but if I were, I’d appreciate a driver who follows the direction of his crew chief and races his guts out to get wins.
Winning. What a novel idea.
Other articles by Jim McCoy include:
There's A Lot Riding On Daytona
Dale Jr's Progress Cause For "The Nation's" Optimism
The Chase Forecast: Who's In, Who's Out