No fooling: Can't ignore Gordon-JJ rivalry

April, 26, 2010
4/26/10
9:58
AM CT


"Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."

When Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson ran into each other last week in Texas during the running of the Samsung Mobile 500, not much was made of the appearance of a rift in the teammates' relationship. Not even with red-handed evidence of Gordon's anger at Johnson. Gordon spewed his frustration over the radio, which was caught and replayed by the television network. While some media talked about it, few played up the issue to a scale I expected.

Then came Talladega.

GordonThe 48 is testing my patience, I can tell you that. ... It takes a lot to make me mad. I am [mad] right now. I don't know what it is with me and him right now.


-- Jeff Gordon, on Jimmie Johnson


With seven laps to go, Gordon was to be leading a freight-train of cars that ducked under Johnson nearing the end of the back straightaway. The draft is more critical at Talladega than any other speedway. Even though there wasn't a car or a hot dog wrapper to offer the benefit of a draft for a couple hundred yards ahead of Johnson, he pulled down two lanes to slide in front of Gordon, forcing his teammate off the track, below the yellow line and, more importantly, broke his momentum. That jumbled the rest of the field. Ugly.

Texas was once. Now Talladega was twice. Shame on somebody.

Expect the NASCAR media horde to be in full-throttle rivalry mode this week. Controversy. Finger-pointing. Live, live, live! This week's NASCAR!

If the incidents were some sort of strange coincidence or not what they appear to be to the naked eye, Johnson should say so. And if there is a rivalry heating up here, the two drivers should quickly work to repair the brotherly love that has been dented in this high-speed demolition derby of emotions.

Gordon has talked about it to the media for the last two weeks. He hasn't pulled any punches.

"We got a huge push down the back straight," Gordon said at Talladega. "Someone gave me a shove and I was coming 10 mph faster than anybody. The 48 [Johnson] is testing my patience. It takes a lot to get me mad, and I am pissed right now. When a car is going that much faster ... I don't know what it is with him and me right now."

I've gotten a couple of telephone calls and e-mails since the race, complaining that Johnson wasn't asked any tough questions by the media today. The truth is, he's not required by NASCAR to talk to the media after the race unless he finishes in the top five. It's his prerogative to leave the track without comment, if that is what he did. I would say it's rather smart to take time, cool off and collect his thoughts.

No other sport allows the media such immediate access. If a quarterback pulls a bone-headed play to lose a game on the 1-yard line in the final seconds of a game, he is given time to undress, shower, meet with the trainer, etc., before he answers any questions. That's quite a bit of time to cool off and think about what you are going to say. In NASCAR, how many times have you seen a driver interviewed while still in the car, helmet on? It's one of the charms of our sport. So cut Johnson some slack.


But if we have a rivalry -- and with two incidents in two straight races, it certainly appears we do -- then what is the root? Where did it start?


I have known of rivalries in this sport that have started over girls. Over sponsors. Over junior high school behavior.

But when two four-time champions on the same team start butting heads and running into each other at almost 200 mph, it's big news. These are two of the classiest guys ever to have graced the sport participating in an old school NASCAR grudge match. It's not what we expect from these two.

My best guess is it's simply two thoroughbreds operating out of the same stall. Eventually somebody starts feeling their oats. Who knows what has been said. Who knows who stepped on who's toes. The bottom line is both want to win. And in NASCAR, only one guy gets to go to Victory Lane.

Expect the PR folks at Hendrick Motorsports to start throwing water on the fire that is rivalry talk. Once again this week, the two will meet, get things off their chest and reportedly be seen singing "Kumbaya" together.

But I don't buy it. They said that after the first incident last week in Texas. Now Talladega.

"Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice ..."

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