FORT WORTH, Texas – Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth aren’t helping Texas Motor Speedway in its bid to promote the AAA Texas 500.
Two years ago when Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart were fighting for the Sprint Car title, a boxing ring, robes and gloves were used to pump up the race. Both drivers played it up with Stewart exiting the media center following the fall win wearing his boxing robe.
This year the slogan is “Deadlocked!” as Kenseth and Johnson are tied for the point lead with three races to go in the Chase for the Championship.
But if the track was trying to stir the pot with a little friction between the drivers, it’s not going to happen. Johnson and Kenseth are two of the least controversial drivers in the series and to make matters worse, they’re actually friends.
There won’t be any boxing gloves needed for Sunday’s race.
“I’m not really into all the head games,” said Kenseth, who is technically in first place because he has more wins than Johnson this year (seven to five). “I’m not smart enough to be into head games and insults and some of the stuff we’ve seen over the last few years. I’m just really not. My brain is over capacity already trying to figure out how to make my race car fast enough to beat the best. They always say ‘If you want to be the man you’ve got to beat the man.’ He’s always definitely been the man.”
Kenseth said that just before exiting the media center at TMS, but not before he stopped to talk with Johnson and show him something on his phone before the two of them laughed.
So much for controversy leading up to the race, despite the best efforts of track president Eddie Gossage, who joked he was going to try and damage each driver’s motorhome and blame it on the other one.
That might not even work, as the respect level each driver has for the other won’t deliver the needed sound bites for the media or their detractors.
“I think we do have a lot of similarities in the way we race,” said Johnson. “Being around him, off the track as well as with his family, we have a lot in common. I wouldn’t say we are identical. But we do have something very deep down that is very common between the both of us the way we approach things a little more laid back.”
While both drivers are laid back, that doesn’t mean they don’t have competitive streaks and impressive resumes. Between the two of them they have 96 victories and six Sprint Cup titles.
They’ve accomplished most of that without creating controversy on the track or off it. That approach doesn’t figure to change this weekend even though the stakes are so high..
Kenseth doesn’t plan to change his driving style even though a title is on the line.
“You always race as hard as you can, especially when it comes down to a win, comes down to that last run of the day, comes down to a championship,” he said. “You always race as hard as you can but at the same time try to be as fair and as clean as you can. Throughout your career, you find out you make mistakes, you learn from those kinds of things. I think if you try to race people the way you want to be raced it usually works out both ways. The goal is to always get your car running good where you can go pass and you can go outrun the other guy and not worry about that.”
If Kenseth is able to do that Sunday, he’ll leave Texas with the lead as he vies for his first Sprint Cup title since 2003, the year before the Chase format began.
Unfortunately for Gossage, whose track is decorated with powder kegs and fake dynamite plungers, Johnson plans to treat Kenseth with the same respect on the track that he has in the past too.
“Matt and I have always had a very good respect for one another on the track especially in the Cup Series at this level,” Johnson said. “We have been able to get to that line and respect each other on the track. Accidents do happen and stuff can happen. We’re out there reaching hard for a championship and we will see how things turn out.”