Did we just see a rivalry develop right before our eyes in Sunday’s NASCAR race at Michigan?
I don’t mean between Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Certainly Gordon had said some harsh words over his radio during the race about Dale Jr., and after the race made it clear he wasn’t apologizing. But I’m sure team owner Rick Hendrick has patched things up for two of his stars.
While Johnson suffered heartache by blowing an engine while leading with only five laps remaining to finish 27th, Keselowski finished second.
As Johnson left the track without speaking to reporters, Keselowski took the opportunity to stake his claim as a title contender and also try to play some mind games with Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team.
“I can taste the legitimacy of being a championship contender,” said Keselowski in throwing down the gauntlet.
But perhaps he had already done that during the race when he referred to the “tricks” used by Hendrick Motorsports in their set-ups over the radio. Keselowski said six to 12 cars use the Hendrick “tricks” and have separated themselves from the field and upset the balance of competition in NASCAR.
“There’s parts and pieces on the car that are moving after inspection that make the car more competitive," Keselowski said of the Hendrick team cars. “Some guys have it, some don’t. There’s a question to the interpretation of the rule. Penske Racing (Keselowski’s team) errs on the safe side because we don’t want to be the guys that get the big penalty.”
Since June some drivers have complained about the rear end of cars driven by drivers such as Earnhardt and Johnson that appear to move around. NASCAR put a rule in place prior to Indianapolis in late July but drivers said it did nothing to impact the performance of Hedrick’s cars. In fact, Johnson won the Brickyard 400.
Other drivers agree.
“Whatever they’ve got working in the back of their cars is working well for them,” Hamlin said of the Hendrick team.
“Sometimes I think some of those comments are made just because people are getting beat and they don’t like it and they want to bring attention to something that is probably not there,” said Jeff Gordon, another Hendrick driver.
But Keselowski, in claiming his role as a championship contender, also indicated his team has to re-think its position.
“There’s certainly some performance there that we haven’t gained,” he said about the Hendrick teams’ setup. “That’s something we have to evaluate every week that goes by, that those components are permitted to be run. We have to make a re-evaluation of that internally to decide if that’s the right way to go.”
There are only three races until the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship begins. You can smell the playoffs as everybody jockeys for position.
Business is about to pick up.