Johnson prefers to hash it out face-to-face; Burton says any talk is better than nothing
MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- No matter where you work, one inevitability is office politics. The NASCAR garage is no different.
So when disputes arise, how best to handle differences?
The three-headed monster of a driver rivalry involving Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Tony Stewart has prompted hurt feelings, cross words and physical altercations in the last two races. Friday, all three said they haven't spoken since arriving at Martinsville Speedway, focusing more on making their cars faster than mending fences.
One byproduct of the digital age is being able to connect instantly through text, Twitter or other social media. That doesn't always mean it's best to settle problems with other drivers electronically.
"Tweeting is definitely not personal enough."
"The flip side to it as well is, pick up the phone and call a guy. Go find them," said Jimmie Johnson, who'll start from the pole in Sunday's STP Gas Booster 500 (1 p.m. ET, FOX). "You don’t have to do it in front of the cameras; go find a guy and tell him how you feel. I think at the end of the day, that is the route that I have chosen. I think you can be far more effective by engaging with someone. A phone call is barely personal enough. Texting is not personal enough. Tweeting is definitely not personal enough, but engage."
Hamlin will miss up to six weeks with a back injury, but Friday he was at the track helping his Joe Gibbs Racing team with insights on getting around the .526-mile track. As fate would have it, Hamlin was acting as a consultant right beside the garage stall of his rival Logano, whose Penske team is just one position behind Hamlin's JGR operation in the car owner points standings.
The drivers might not be close in friendship, but in terms of proximity, they might never be closer than this weekend.
"It would be real easy to slide next door and be like 'Hey, look. We’ve got to bury the hatchet on this deal,' " Johnson said. "Or drive to somebody’s house. We all live within 30 miles of one another. Or go sit at the bar and wait for him at the bar and punch him in the face. There are a lot of options."
For all the options, no clear-cut protocol exists on proper etiquette when egos and fenders are bruised. Brad Keselowski, Logano's Penske Racing teammate, suggests that's not necessarily a bad thing.
"It’s easy to bench race it and say how I would have handled it, but everybody is different and has their own style," Keselowski said. "It would be terrible if we were all the same, wouldn’t it? So to imply that every driver should handle the situation this way, that really sounds kind of asinine to me because that would be boring as hell to watch, it would be boring as hell to do. There are going to be different styles and different approaches."
So whether it's a call, text, tweet or some other means, Jeff Burton suggests anything is better than doing nothing at all, lest an unresolved dispute turn the garage area into a toxic workplace.
"You need to reach out and try to make it happen," Burton said. "If you can’t have a logical conversation, then it's best to pull back. We live together. We’ve got to race together. We’ve got to somewhat get along. Even if you don’t like the guy you still have to have some sort of professional respect for the guy. They’ll find a way through it but it’s probably going to take a little time. I’m sure Denny, in the position he’s in, is bitter about it. I think Joey has his feet dug in the sand, too. I do think over time it will get better. But when you screw up, you’ve just got to address it. You just do."
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