Full speed ahead for fierce feud, play­off push

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - SCOREBOARD - By Larry Lage

BROOK­LYN, Mich. — Jim­mie Johnson’s feud with Ryan Blaney is show­ing no signs of slow­ing down, head­ing into Sun­day’s NAS­CAR Cup race at Michi­gan In­ter­na­tional Speed­way.

Johnson still wants Blaney to apol­o­gize for mak­ing con­tact from be­hind go­ing into a turn nearly a week ago at Watkins Glen.

The seven-time cham­pion ap­proached the 25year-old Blaney af­ter the race, point­ing his in­dex fin­ger at him dur­ing a heated ex­change.

“When I went to talk to him af­ter the race at some point he said he felt bad, but I never heard, ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to,’ ” Johnson re­called Fri­day. “I thought I would get a call, just with the friend­ship that we had, and the amount of re­spect I thought we had for one an­other. And, I didn’t.

“To me, it’s pretty ob­vi­ous he meant to drive through me.”

Blaney said he has no plans to say he’s sorry.

“To get on my knees and beg for his for­give­ness, that’s not how it is be­cause that’s not what hap­pened,” he said. “If he’s ex­pect­ing an apol­ogy, that’s out of line.”

Blaney went on to fin­ish fifth in his No. 12 Penske Rac­ing Ford, clos­ing strong enough to have a solid show­ing af­ter start­ing from the rear of the field at Watkins Glen.

Johnson spun out and ended up fin­ish­ing 19th to make up a lit­tle ground in the play­off race.

“It did not turn out the way it could have for us and points are so im­por­tant for us right now,” he said. “That’s where a lot of the frus­tra­tion came from. We’ve all talked about it plenty. I’m ready to race.”

Johnson is tied with Ryan New­man for the 16th and fi­nal spot in the play­offs with just four races re­main­ing to de­ter­mine the field. Since the play­offs started 15 years ago, Johnson has earned a spot each time. This year, there are no guar­an­tees he will still be rac­ing when it mat­ters.

“It’s top of mind,” he said. “That’s all we’re here for. We’ve got four yet. We ab­so­lutely should be in the play­offs. There’s no ex­cuses.”

Johnson po­ten­tially could have a third crew chief in three races in his No. 48 Chevro­let for Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports. Cliff Daniels called the race at Watkins Glen, re­plac­ing Kevin Meen­der­ing af­ter Johnson’s win­less streak reached 80 races, but Daniels’ first child is due to be born soon.

“We have a plane ready if Cliff gets the call,” Johnson said. “He will be there for the birth of his first born.”

Johnson split with long­time crew chief Chad Knaus af­ter go­ing win­less last year, end­ing a 17-year run that helped him match a record with seven Cup cham­pi­onships.

Blaney, show­ing re­spect for the vet­eran, didn’t do a lot of talk­ing when Johnson an­grily ap­proached him. Blaney stood there for more than a minute, mostly lis­ten­ing.

“His lip was quiv­er­ing and he didn’t have a lot to say,” Johnson re­called.

That was just one of the things that Johnson said af­ter the race and in the days that fol­lowed, leav­ing Blaney steam­ing.

“For him to say what he said af­ter we got done talk­ing, that pretty much so­lid­i­fied that the re­spect has dwin­dled down a lot,” Blaney said. “Ob­vi­ously, that re­spect doesn’t go both ways. It showed me he has no re­spect for me. That re­ally up­set me.”

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