AVONDALE, AZ – NOV. 08: The cars of Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota, and Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet, are seen during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Advocare 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on Nov. 8, 2013 in Avondale, Ariz.
One of the little-publicized truths of NASCAR is that this time of year, there are a lot of people in bad moods. When you race 38 weekends in a 40-week stretch, you’re tired by the time the calendar gets to November. And when you’re tired, you get cranky.
It seems safe to say that Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus and the crew of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet have about had enough of their next-door neighbors in the NASCAR Sprint Cup garage, Brad Keselowski, Paul Wolfe and the No. 2 Penske Racing crew.
In the Sprint Cup garage, the haulers and garage stalls are lined up by points. The No. 1 spot goes to last year’s champion, No. 2 goes to the current points leader, No. 3 to the second driver in points, etc. So for much of the season, the No. 2 and No. 48 have been right next to each other.
Gil Martin, crew chief of Kevin Harvick’s race-winning car at Phoenix, said the Penske guys like to annoy Johnson’s team.
"Nobody knows how tough this environment is until you live it every day," said Martin. "But I can promise you, the guys that are next to us in the garage, if we find a chink in their armor, we’re going to get on it. If it’s turning up a radio, like the 2 car tries to do to the 48 during the week to get under their skin, or if it’s placing a fake camera on your pit box and trying to look like you’re recording what the guy next to you is doing and make him work undercover, we’re going to do it, because that’s just what’s going to happen in this garage area, the games that are played, and these guys are just tough."
Keselowski didn’t make any friends last week when he said Johnson didn’t like to race hard "because that’s not their wheelhouse. I think that was one of our strengths last year."
"I guess we need to ask Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Denny Hamlin — who else have I raced for a championship, Carl Edwards? — a lot of those guys how we race," Johnson shot back. "We race hard. That is not a weakness of ours by any stretch…I’m good at racing. That is my sweet spot."
And judging by the fact that he’s all but locked up his sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, Johnson must be right.