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Retro Racing: Brewer, Johnson still at odds nearly 20 years later

December 23, 2011, Rick Houston, Special to NASCAR.COM,

Former team owner and crew chief recall tumultuous '92 Cup season together

Decades from now, there might come a day when Tony Stewart and Darian Grubb are able to laugh about the time one of them fired the other right after winning the 2011 Sprint Cup championship together.

Time, after all, does have a way of healing old wounds. Once in a while, at least.

All Stewart and Grubb did this year was go out and post victories in five of the 10 Chase races, including an epic must-win over Carl Edwards in the season finale at Homestead that sealed for them the sport's biggest prize. And still, Grubb was out, leaving many to scratch their heads in bewilderment. It's hard to do much better than winning a championship with Grubb as crew chief, but for whatever reasons the change was made.

Only time will tell if Tony Stewart and Darian Grubb will ever be able to sit down together and reminisce about the good ol' days of their title together. So far, that hasn't exactly been the case for Junior Johnson and Tim Brewer.

Johnson and Brewer didn't win the 1992 championship with Bill Elliott behind the wheel, but they did come agonizingly close before the veteran crew chief was fired at the end of the year. And, despite the fact that nearly 20 years have now passed, the stark reality of it all still seems all too fresh between the two men.

Beginning of the end

The mixture seemed to be just right early in Elliott's first year with Junior Johnson & Associates. Johnson had long been a NASCAR legend, Elliott was already "Awesome Bill from Dawsonville" and Brewer had more than 50 Cup victories as a crew chief. Together, they got off to an amazing start, with wins in a 125-mile qualifying race at Daytona and consecutive victories at Rockingham, Richmond, Atlanta and Darlington.

"We did all we could do -- Bill Elliott, myself, Junior, the guys in the motor room. We weren't supposed to win that championship, and we didn't win it. Period."


"We went to Daytona to test in early January," Brewer recalled. "Bill got in the car, went out, made several laps on the race track and he came back in. The first thing he said was, 'Hey, Brewer. This ain't got the right restrictor plate on it.' I said, 'What do you mean?' and he said, 'Man, this thing will run like hell!'"

As good as things were for a good part of the season, the wheels began to fall off in late September at Dover. Leading in the standings, Brewer wanted to change new tires during a crucial stop as the laps wound down, but Johnson overruled him and ordered four. Remarkably, Johnson -- one of the most proud and, yes, stubborn men ever to step into a NASCAR garage -- today readily accepts the blame for that particular incident.

He'll even go so far as to concede that it could have cost the team the championship.

"I messed up at Dover," Johnson admitted. "We were leading the race a lap ahead or something. Tim wanted to change two tires, and I wanted to change four. When I put four tires on it, it didn't run as good as it did when it had the four wore-out tires. I don't know what happened to the car, but we were coming out of the turn when [race winner Ricky Rudd] got the flag. Three more laps, we would have caught him. It was my fault."

Although Elliott finished second at Dover, the damage had been done. The next race at Martinsville, the team experienced a blown engine. At North Wilkesboro, Elliott was eight laps down at the checkered flag. At Charlotte, a track bar mount broke. The swoon was briefly interrupted by a fourth-place showing at Rockingham.

Yet another blown engine in the next-to-last race of the season at Phoenix dropped Elliott from first to third in the standings, 40 points behind new leader Davey Allison and 10 behind second-place Alan Kulwicki. What's more, Mark Martin, Kyle Petty and Harry Gant also had outside mathematical shots going into Atlanta. The 1992 Hooters 500 turned out to be the stuff of legend -- and for Brewer, his last race with Johnson.

'No holding back'

Relive the championship battle between Davey Allison, Bill Elliott and Alan Kulwicki in this clip from SPEED's new documentary.

After Allison crashed out at Atlanta, the prize came down to Elliott, Kulwicki and who would lead the most laps that day.

"We knew we had to lead every lap we could," Brewer began. "On the last pit stop, when Kulwicki stopped, there was some conversation on the radio. There was some miscommunication there. Long story short, there's a lot of different elements that took the championship away from us. We did all we could do -- Bill Elliott, myself, Junior, the guys in the motor room. We weren't supposed to win that championship, and we didn't win it. Period."

Elliott won, but Kulwicki finished second and led a total of 103 laps to the ginger-headed Georgian's 102. The razor-thin 10-point difference between them was, until this year's tie-breaker between Stewart and Carl Edwards, the smallest in NASCAR history. Losing out on the series crown was bad enough, but according to Johnson, trouble had erupted in the pits earlier that cold afternoon.

"Four of the Budweiser people from Atlanta had come down there, thinking we were going to win the race," Johnson said. "Tim was over there, getting them out of our pits when Bill didn't run that other lap. The s*** he done at Atlanta, it had a two-faced deal on it. He was supposed to be hugging Budweiser's necks instead of running them out of the pits. He denies it. I know he denies it, but it's a lie. It's what I fired him over ... not looking after his business."

For Johnson, it was the final straw.

End of the line

The owner and crew chief appear to agree on one point, and it's that trouble had been building well before the season's swan song in Atlanta. The reasons and blame game, though, are a different matter.

When asked if his release was simply due to Atlanta or a combination of things that progressed to the point of no return, Brewer said bluntly, "Get Junior to tell you the truth." Then, he continued, "I've never said anything to this point, and I never will. Get Junior to tell you the truth. If he's got balls enough to do that, hey, that's fine with me.

"He was supposed to be hugging Budweiser's necks instead of running them out of the pits. He denies it. I know he denies it, but it's a lie. It's what I fired him over ... not looking after his business."


"Like I told Floss Johnson [Junior's ex-wife], "The last time I come by that sign down there at the end of the driveway, it said, 'Junior Johnson & Associates.' It didn't say a damn thing about Tim Brewer. That was his call. He made it. He can live with it. He can die with it. But it was not about the race in Atlanta, I can tell you that."

It's a point that Johnson is willing today to concede, that Brewer's termination was not solely a result of the incidents in Atlanta.

"I started leaving two guys on that car to build it and all, to help Tim out about five, six races before the championship come down to that end," Johnson said. "Tim got where I'd go by and tell somebody to do this or that. When I would leave, he'd tell them, 'You get back up yonder and do what I tell you to do, and not do what he said.' He was going to be fired, [winning the 1992 championship or not] didn't make any difference."

Brewer would never win another race as a Cup crew chief, while Johnson scored just one more with Elliott and two with Jimmy Spencer in 1994 before selling his famed organization at the end of the 1995 season. Like Stewart and Grubb, both Johnson and Brewer have moved on to a good many other things -- Johnson was an inaugural inductee into the NASCAR Hall of Fame and Brewer is an analyst for ESPN's NASCAR telecasts.

"Good, bad or indifferent, he screwed up what was a good race team," Brewer concluded. "It's not what he did to me. It's what he did to everybody there. It's his call. I've lived with it for 20 years. It don't really matter to me no more, because hey, there's nothing I can do about it."

He is on a roll now. It doesn't take much to realize that these are emotions that have been right there, just beneath the surface, for a long time now.

"Let me give you a tip, when I ran Junior Johnson & Associates, it wasn't about Junior," Brewer said. "It wasn't about Floss. It wasn't about the drivers. It wasn't about me. It was about everybody. It's just like going to war every day. I went to kill or get killed. It didn't make a damn to me.

"There was a lot of tradition at Junior Johnson & Associates, and I was responsible for making that thing work. I did all I could do to do that. The demise of that place? Don't put Tim Brewer's name next to that. When I left there, I was winning races and winning championships. I'm going to let the people that followed me take credit for the demise of that damn place, not me."

In a very real sense, the end of their working relationship was intensely personal. Johnson was best man in Brewer's 1978 wedding, and Brewer had won championships with both Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip during separate stints working for Johnson.

And to this day, there are things about Brewer that Johnson will not discuss on the record.

"He was my best friend for a lot of years," Brewer concluded. "I spent a lot of time there taking care of [Johnson], and he took care of me. I can't say enough about what he did for me, but you know? That's a two-way street. I worked my ass off for him, and I didn't let nobody get Junior's back -- nobody. I took care of him the best I could."