Johnson's Dover hopes crushed with black flag
June 02, 2013, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
DOVER, Del. -- Jimmie Johnson was still visibly frustrated after climbing out of his car in the Dover International Speedway garage after being black-flagged for jumping the final restart of Sunday's FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks.
Instead of battling for the win, he ended up 17th after serving a drive-through penalty in the waning laps. And the five-time Sprint Cup Series champion said he absolutely planned on having a discussion with NASCAR about the situation.
Running alongside then-race leader Juan Pablo Montoya on a restart with 19 laps remaining, Johnson's Chevy lunged forward in front of the field as the green flag waved and Montoya’s Chevy lagged.
"There’s always a judgment call in pro sports, it doesn’t matter what the sport is. Our sport doesn’t have many opportunities for that, but today we did."
-- Jimmie Johnson
“Whatever happened, he just did not go,’’ Johnson explained after the race. “At a certain point I didn’t know if he was even under power.
“I wish I had handled it differently. But (If I hadn’t gone) I would have been passed by at least the 42 (Montoya) if not two or three others. Once you get up to speed and the pack gets rolling it’s real hard to give it back and have it be fair for everyone.
“The issue he had was so big I didn’t know if he lost power or what. Eventually I had to get going and was called on it. I’d just be wasting air talking about it. There’s always a judgment call in pro sports, it doesn’t matter what the sport is. Our sport doesn’t have many opportunities for that, but today we did.’’
NASCAR Vice President for Competition Robin Pemberton stood by the decision to penalize Johnson and said he’d welcome any conversation the champ wanted to pursue.
“That was an easy call, a very easy call,’’ Pemberton said. “He (Johnson) beat the 42 even out of the box from what we could see on the film. And we give them an opportunity to give it back.’’
When told what Johnson said about Montoya not being at speed and that he waited as long as he could, Pemberton said simply, “I understand what he says.’’
“You can’t look at that perspective without looking at the original … he left early and he didn’t give it back like we tell them all the time when this type of thing comes up. It’s pretty cut and dry.’’
“We’re always here. And we’re down at the R&D center if they want to come and talk.’’
For his part, Montoya seemed to chalk it up to a strategy call that just didn’t work. Ironically, Montoya was penalized for speeding on pit road with only 35 laps remaining after dominating the 2009 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis -- a race that Johnson went on to win.
“Jimmie was laying off nearly a car length from me and I knew he wanted to jump the start,’’ said Montoya, whose runner-up finish to Tony Stewart equaled his best ever oval showing.
“I backed off a little bit for us to line up and he didn’t want to do it. When we got to the line I think he wanted to time it and he timed it too well. He wanted to get the jump on me and he just jumped it too well."
Race-winner Stewart had a prime view of the restart, as he was lined up directly behind Montoya. And while he had sympathy for Johnson's day ending like it did, Stewart was firm that the leader sets the re-start pace.
“Juan was leading the race so he was in charge of the restart pace,'' Stewart said. "The zone we have is not conducive to being leader-friendly. Most of the time, the guy second has a huge advantage. I feel bad for Jimmie because he ran good all day … but he knows what the rules are and that the leader has to cross the start/finish first. Everyone knows what the procedures are. I feel bad for Jimmie because I don’t think that’s (finish) what he deserves. You don’t want it coming down to a decision NASCAR has to make.''
"(Montoya is) someone that plays fair by the rules and doesn’t abuse things like that. There’s a lot of other drivers that will play games. But I didn’t feel like he slowed that pace down to an absurd rate. I feel he has the flexibility as the leader to adjust to what feels right to him.''
Johnson’s team owner Rick Hendrick was more philosophical about the whole thing than his driver, but also intended to get clarification on the ruling.
“Evidently the rule is if someone spins their tires or doesn’t go, you still have to wait,’’ Hendrick said. “I didn’t think that was the rule but it really doesn’t make much difference what I think right now.
“We had a good day and the fellows ran good, we just came up short. I hate that, we were quick enough to win the race, but that’s their call. I’ll ask them about it... I’m disappointed, but I’m not angry about it. No sense in getting mad in this sport"
For Johnson, the finish was hardly indicative of his effort. After going a lap down early in the race, he came back to lead 143 laps -- second only to Kyle Busch’s 150.
A win would have been Johnson’s eighth, and made him the all-time winningest driver at Dover’s "Monster Mile," breaking a tie with Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Bobby Allison.
“You never want to lose, especially when you had a chance to win and we had a chance to make history today,’’ Johnson said, pausing as various drivers such as Busch stopped by to offer a back-slap and head shake.
“You have to go in and learn from these situations, whether I do or they do, we’ll all be smarter from the conversation."
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