Mad as Hell Johnson Bumps, Runs to Victory
By Mike Harris | Senior Writer
Loudon, N.H. – Jimmie Johnson saw the red mist Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway after Kurt Busch bumped him out of the lead with seven laps to go in the Lenox 301.
Enough is enough.
The four-time reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, often criticized for being bland and way too nice, wasn’t going to let this one ride.
“Inside the car, I was livid,’’ Johnson said. “I was so pissed off that he got into me. I thought, `I don’t care if I win this race or not; I don’t care if I finish this damn thing, I’m running into him and get by one way or another.’ ‘’
It took Johnson five laps to catch Busch and there was a lot of anticipation as the No. 48 Chevrolet moved up on the rear bumper of the No. 2 Dodge.
But better judgement overcame anger as Johnson nudged Busch on lap 299, pulled nearly even at the finish line and then shot into the lead heading into the first turn on lap 300 in the 301-lap race. He went on to win for the second straight week as Tony Stewart bumped past Busch on the final lap to take second away.
“I’m not good at doing that stuff,’’ Johnson said. “Usually, I crash myself in the process. So I tried once and moved him, but (thought) `I’ve got to hit him harder.’ The second time, I moved him out of the way and got by him and was able to get going.’’
Busch said he didn’t realize that he had angered Johnson. He just thought it was good short track racing.
“It was just good short track racing,’’ Busch said. “I just got into him a little bit in the left rear, nudged him up and was able to squeeze by. Your motive is always to pass a guy clean. You always want to make sure that when you do pass him, he’s not completely upset with you.
“ “We didn’t flat out wreck him. We didn’t cut his tire. We didn’t drive over him. It was just a nice nudge,’’ he added.
Johnson definitely did not see it that way. But he had some time to think as he chased Busch down.
“My thought process was `Wreck his ass,’ ‘’ Johnson said. “And my end result was like: `You can’t do that, you’ll wreck yourself, you’ll look like a fool. You still have a chance to win the race. Focus on your job.’ It made it a little easier for me to get off the brake a little earlier and nudge him.
“But I don’t want people to think, `Oh, I can knock the 48 out of the way because he’s not going to wreck me.’ That’s the last thing I want people to think. He didn’t wreck me and, at the end of the day, I guess I didn’t owe him a visit to the fence, so it worked itself out.’’
The result of his decision was the fifth win of the season for Johnson and the 52nd of his career.
Just a few weeks ago, it appeared some of Johnson’s magic had left him. He suffered through a miserable month of May that included consecutive finishes of 36th, 16th and 37th and left him seventh in the season points.
But things have returned to normal with Johnson’s fourth straight top-10 finish moving him back to second place, just 105 points behind series leader Kevin Harvick with nine races remaining in the regular season.
Jeff Burton, once the master of the 1.058-mile New Hampshire oval, appeared to have regained his touch on the “Magic Mile’’ as he dominated the second half of the event.
But, after just two caution flags in the first 282 laps, a couple of late yellows shook things up and set up the furious finish.
Juan Pablo Montoya, who ran in the top 10 nearly all day, was put into the wall by the lapped car of Reed Sorenson on lap 282.
Burton and Johnson, who was in second place, then played a waiting game before Johnson peeled off into the pits at the last second, leaving Burton, with his worn tires, on the track and a sitting duck on the ensuing restart.
“All we had to do was drag two or three people with us on that restart and we would have been fine,’’ the disappointed Burton said. “Being the leader sometimes is a disadvantage, and that was one of them.’’
Johnson said it’s a very tough decision to make whether to pit or not in that situation.
“There is no right or wrong at the time,’’ he said. “It’s after everybody decides to pit or not, you realize if you made the right decision. With the whole field coming (in) and 31 (Burton) being the only one on old tires, it ended up being the wrong decision for those guys and worked out for us.’’
Johnson drove his No. 48 Chevrolet to the lead when the green flag waved on lap 288, with Kurt Busch and brother Kyle both driving past Burton, too.
The last of the four cautions then came out on lap 289 as Burton slid up into Kyle Busch as they fought for third place.
The last restart came on lap 294 and it was then that Busch used his bumper to gently move Johnson aside and grab the lead. But Johnson was able to hold onto second and quickly ran down the leader before returning the favor.
“You know, experience helps you maintain and do the right thing in those moments,’’ Johnson said. “I had plenty of time left and I knew that I was better than he was. My blood pressure returned to a normal state and I handed it in the correct manner.’’
After a crash-fest on the road course in Sonoma the previous week, a lot of people expected Sunday’s race to be a crazy one, with lots of payback. Instead, it was generally calm until the final 20 laps.
Jeff Gordon, who had hit just about everybody in sight at Sonoma, stayed out of trouble most of the day, except for a brief brush with Montoya as they battled for position, and finished fourth. He was followed by Harvick, Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer and a rejuvenated Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Montoya was not pleased with Gordon.
“He just didn’t give me any room,’’ Montoya said. “He never does. He has it coming one day.’’
Probably the unluckiest driver on Sunday was Kasey Kahne, who led a race-high 110 laps before a sour engine slowed him down. Eventually, the new Ford FR9 engine gave up in a puff of smoke, relegating Kahne to 36th place and just about killing his chances of the making the 12-man Chase for the championship.
Kahne wound up the day a daunting 286 points behind 12th-place Carl Edwards.
Earnhardt went the other way, moving within three points of Edwards with his third straight finish of 11th or better.
“I think it’s a good start to a turning point,’’ Earnhardt said.
– MIke Harris can be reached at email@example.comOne Comment