Temper (tantrums) flare at Charlotte
It’s time for milk and cookies for Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus — again.
The level of snarkiness on the No. 5 (aka 48) radio channel rose to DEFCON 2 over the course of the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. If fans didn’t know better, they might have thought they were listening to the old 88-team channel.
The voices resonating from radio sounded more like two teenagers in the middle of a break-up, not five-time NASCAR champions.
Johnson possesses an inner calmness that has served him well throughout his decade in the Sprint Cup Series. That coolness has allowed him to balance out Knaus’ A-typical personality. And when the team was faced with adversity, Johnson has always found the inner strength to recover.
For whatever reason, Johnson was unable to launch one of his signature comebacks in Saturday night’s all-star race to make a run at winner Carl Edwards — and we’re talking about Charlotte Motor Speedway. Entering the event, Johnson had finished outside of the top 10 just three times in nine All-Star events. Saturday’s 11th-place finish marked number four.
Johnson was still the highest finishing Hendrick Motorsports car in the event. His six career wins in points races on the 1.5-mile track place him in a three-way tie with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip. He seemed to be on track for another solid finish after a two-tire pit stop enabled the Lowe’s Chevrolet to line up third on Lap 51.
What followed seemed to be uncharacteristic confusion when it came to pit calls, particularly during one exchange during a competition caution on Lap 70 — and over the next 15 minutes.
Johnson reported his car felt different when it started out on four sticker (new) tires. When the driver — who is one of the best in the business at offering feedback — calmly explained that he wasn’t sure what to suggest, Knaus called an audible for Johnson to pit.
After the stop, Knaus acknowledged, “We may have really (messed) up there.”
Johnson asked if Knaus could offer a little more warning on the next stop. Not long after he added the car was “terrible”.
“What do you got going on there, dude?” Knaus asked.
“Do you want me to state something besides the obvious?” Johnson replied.
“Would you like me to adjust on the car any?” Knaus asked in a more sedate tone.
“No, I think we're fine,” Johnson said. “Just track position.”
After the pit stop, Knaus said in a condescending tone, “Hope that we realize we don’t need to tear up a race car just for the sake of tearing it up.”
On the final pit stop before the 10-lap shootout, Johnson feared that he accidentally hit one of the No. 24 team’s crewmen. The team quelled his concerns.
Johnson then reported that his A-post was “bent to hell” which drew the response from Knaus, “You're just bitching because you're hot”.
While the last exchange pretty much ended the drama — and the communication between driver and crew chief for the evening — one has to wonder what’s going on with the No. 48 team? Certainly this was not the only crew with issues throughout the night. Earlier in the Sprint Showdown, former championship crew chief Greg Zipadelli appeared at his wits end with young Master Logano. Here’s the PG-rated version:
Zipadelli: "Next year we'll win a race and we won't have to do this chicken (expletive) thing."
Joey: "It ain't like I'm not (expletive) trying!"
Zipadelli: "I'm not saying you ain't trying, so shut the (expletive) up!"
While Zipadelli endured his share of Maalox moments with Tony Stewart prior to Logano’s arrival, at least he knew week in and week out he had a shot at winning and when the Chase for the Sprint Cup arrived the No. 20 team would be in the hunt. That’s not the case with his soon-to-be 21-year-old driver who was overhyped as "sliced bread", leaving Zippy and sponsor Home Depot feeling burned -- like toast.
Can the last year of Zipadelli’s contract come soon enough? Or perhaps a crew chief swap between the Nos. 11 and 20 isn't so farfetched
And there’s not a better place for your entertainment dollar these days than the 22 channel. Kurt Busch is a proven champion yet his latest adventures seem satirical.
As Busch left the pits on Lap 26, little did he know that his crew member had jumped over the wall prematurely and let a tire get loose from the stall.
“That was another stellar stop," Busch sneered. He quickly apologized and admitted losing “all composure” before his team informed him he was coming back in for a pass-thru penalty.
Busch’s reply? “Want me to go behind the wall now?”
Sometimes change is necessary. Certainly something has to be done to placate Busch at Penske Racing. The current relationship isn’t healthy for the driver or management. At Joe Gibbs Racing, it’s just a matter of time before Zipadelli finds comfort with his former driver over at Stewart Haas Racing and Home Depot finds a driver on a level comparable to Jimmie Johnson. And speaking of Johnson, yes, Mr. H., sit the boys down, get out milk and cookies and settle this latest spat before it gets out of hand.
SHINING IN THE SHOWDOWN
David Ragan earned the first half of the double for Jack Roush by bringing home the trophy in the Sprint Showdown and earning the top transfer spot in Saturday night’s All-Star race.
With the pressure that the youngest of the Roush Fenway Cup racers has been under since the season started with sponsor UPS up for renewal — and Ragan’s, contract as well — the victory could not have come at a better time.
“It does a lot for our confidence for myself, for the team, for the competitors that we race around,” Ragan said. “We’ve been so close to closing the deal and just haven’t been able to do it. There for a few laps tonight I thought that we were just gonna have to run second, but we kept fighting.”
Ragan started the Showdown from the pole but relinquished the lead to Brad Keselowski when the segment began. But the 25-year-old, in his fifth season with RFR, remained patient through the course of the race. He caught the No. 2 Dodge with two laps remaining in the event for his first win in a Sprint Cup car.
“Everything is a lot easier if you’ve got a fast race car, so I just tried not to make any mistakes those last few runs,” Ragan said. “It’ll give us some extra confidence just to be out here in this All-Star race. This is a race that we’ve had to watch the last three years and it’s been pretty tough to go back home and watch it, so it’ll give us some confidence being out there.
“I’m more proud for my team to be a part of it. They’ve been working hard. We didn’t get a chance to go down to the Pit Crew Challenge, so I’m really happy for my guys. It means a lot to them.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the perennial favorite for NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver. So it was no surprise when he received the fan vote and third transfer spot for the All-Star race.
“I know my fans worked really hard,” said Earnhardt, who finished 14th in the All-Star race. “I kept up on the internet about the temperature they had about it. They were committed pretty hard. So I appreciate the help.”