Not surprisingly, the World’s Fastest Half-Mile provided plenty of excitement this past weekend across all three series, culminating in a triumphant weekend sweep by Kyle Busch. What was surprising was the lack of crashes we’re accustomed to seeing at a short, steep track such as Bristol. There was plenty of hard racing on display, but drivers were able to avoid day-ending mistakes. Somehow, I don’t think Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus are taking much solace in that.
What Happened: After a restart on lap 262, the 48 car came around a turn with Juan Pablo Montoya on his outside. Montoya stayed on Jimmie’s quarter-panel as they transitioned to the straightaway. While Johnson kept the No. 42 Chevy high and tight by the wall, Montoya appeared to get just a tad loose toward the inside, hooking Johnson and sending him lightly into the wall. After an extended stay on pit road, Johnson, who was running in second at the time, eventually rejoined the race, but finished in 35th, 85 laps down. It certainly was not the finish the pole sitter had in mind. Montoya finished seventh.
The Aftermath: For better or worse, we didn’t get a repeat of last week’s near-scuffle between Ryan Newman and Joey Logano. Instead, a frustrated but non-accusatory Johnson provided his version of the crash. "It was a restart, so everybody’s running hard and we came down the back and I’ve got to look at the video, but I thought I left him enough room on the outside lane there," said Johnson, who is mired in an uncharacteristic slump. "And we’re on the straightaway for a little bit and then all of the sudden I got hooked with force. It’s not like we bumped and banged and I squeezed him. I thought we were on the straightaway and everything was fine and then around I went.
"I don’t think it was something intentional. I don’t think he was trying to dump me, I just have to look at things and see. I really thought I left him room."
Montoya expressed his regret on Twitter, saying “Had a pretty good car all day. Felt pretty bad about recking jimmie but I guess that’s how racing goes sometimes.”
The Verdict: Though seemingly unintentional, the blame here has to be placed primarily on Montoya’s shoulders. Johnson did Montoya no favors by squeezing him to the top of the track, but it was Montoya, not Johnson who got loose and caused the crash. Montoya may have the bullseye on the hood of his car, but he was the (unwitting) assassin, not the target, in this dustup.