WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — Jimmie Johnson shared fist bumps with his No. 48 crew, chatted with spanking-new crew chief Cliff Daniels, then added something different to his Sunday afternoon post-race routine at Watkins Glen International.
He went looking for Ryan Blaney.
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A half-dozen pit stalls away, Johnson found Blaney’s Team Penske No. 12 Ford after the GoBowling at The Glen. He swapped the fist bump for a stern wag of the finger over their on-track altercation with 29 laps to go that sent Johnson’s No. 48 spinning. Blaney continued on to a fifth-place finish while Johnson limped to a 19th-place result, further imperiling his hopes at clinching a postseason berth — though he’s currently the last who would qualify for the 16-driver field.
The minute-long talking-to seemed to end in an agree-to-disagree stalemate, but emotions continued to run high after the cool-down lap.
“I was trying to hear what he had to say but his lips were quivering so bad he can’t even speak,” Johnson said. “I guess he’s nervous or scared, maybe both, I don’t know what the hell the problem is. … He claims it was racing, I can’t wait to go racing. Everybody stay tuned.”
Johnson’s car sustained significant damage after the Blaney bump and an impact with the Turn 5 barrier — an encounter that Johnson described in subsequent interviews as “he just drove through me.”
Blaney indeed chalked their contact up to a racing incident, saying that his No. 12 entry was riding on fresher tires when they battled for position and that he had found an advantage through the bus-stop chicane over the course of the event. He jumped at the passing opportunity when Johnson left a small opening, but that window quickly closed.
“He hit the third curb pretty bad and got in that position and he was up, and I had a good run,” Blaney said. “I was there. He left probably a lane-and-a-quarter or so, and I took it. At first he didn’t turn down like I thought he knew I was there, and then he kept coming. I tried to check up and it was just too late.”
As for their conversation, Blaney said that he understood Johnson’s reaction.
“He’s angry. I can’t blame him for being angry,” Blaney said. “He’s trying to get in the playoffs now and have good runs. Trust me, the last guy I want to spin out is Jimmie. We always run great together and I’ve looked up to him for a long time and still do. (He’s) the last guy I want to spin out. It didn’t end well, he wasn’t happy and I can’t blame him. He’ll probably race me pretty hard here for the next few weeks, but can’t blame him for that. Definitely not my intention there.”
The post-race meeting of the two drivers capped an eventful day for Daniels, who took his seat atop the No. 48 pit box for the first time. Daniels’ task of rejuvenating the team’s playoffs hopes remained a difficult one, but he was able to stem some of the damage by targeting stage points, a strategy that netted six additional points at the stage breaks.
Johnson currently sits in a tie with Ryan Newman for the provisional 16th and final playoffs spot with four regular-season races remaining. Johnson owns the tiebreaker.
“I understand him being frustrated after a day like today, but this track’s known for guys being in tough spots and racing each other hard,” Daniels said. “Super disappointed with what happened to us. I’d be crazy if I wasn’t. Definitely disappointed with that happened to us, but our focus is on maximizing our game moving forward. We’re not going to get caught up in any distractions or any other issues. We’re just going to make sure we do our job and execute every week and the rest will take care of itself.”