LONG POND, Pa.–Five days after the fact, drivers are still talking about the fateful restart at Dover that earned Jimmie Johnson a race-killing penalty.
Johnson is convinced that race leader Juan Pablo Montoya deliberately manipulated a restart with 19 laps left in last Sunday’s FedEx 400. With Montoya progressing slowly between the restart zone and the start/finish line, Johnson, the second-place driver, surged ahead, beating Montoya to the stripe.
Other drivers behind the front row braked hard to allow Montoya to get to the line first, leaving Johnson out front through Turns 1 and 2 and beyond. NASCAR black-flagged the five-time champion and issued a pass-through penalty that relegated Johnson to a 17th-place finish.
NASCAR vice president of competition called the penalty an easy decision, but on Friday at Pocono Raceway, Johnson still wasn’t conceding the point.
“Not for me,” Johnson asserted. “Not for the 15 (Clint Bowyer), not for the 99 (Carl Edwards), not for the 18 (Kyle Busch). I mean all these guys have talked to me, and I just saw Clint, and he was like, ‘Dude, I was on the brakes, like I stomped on the brakes to stop because I knew you were in trouble.’
“I said I knew I was, too, (and told Bowyer) ‘I was just hoping that that they would see the rest of you check up.’ It is what it is. I can’t change it and can’t do anything about it, but moving forward, I think we can prevent that situation from happening again.”
Johnson suggested that NASCAR has the technology to analyze problems on restarts and make quick decisions as to what happened. He also credited Montoya with finding a way to trap him within the letter of the law.
“Essentially, Juan found a loophole,” Johnson said. “He found a loophole in the officiating and worked it to his advantage. So, sure, I’m mad I didn’t win the race, and I’m not mad at him, but I think we need to look at how we officiate and how we can regulate that and keep that from happening.”
The loophole exists between the restart zone and the start/finish line. The rule book says a driver must maintain pace car speed until he reaches the restart zone, but there’s no rule that requires him to go a certain speed between the restart zone and the stripe.
The rule book simply says that the second-place car (or any other car) cannot beat the race leader to the line.
“You could pin four or five people into that position, if they take the bait, which I took the bait–clearly,” Johnson said.
Montoya laughed off the notion that he is a master manipulator. As the leader, he controlled the restart and is supposed to dictate the pace.
“You are not supposed to beat the leader to the line,” Montoya said. “What is so hard about that? You know what I mean? I read a quote about him (Johnson) this week. I was at my house, and I read a quote. He said ‘If he wouldn’t have done that, the No. 42 (Montoya) would have beat him.’ I’m like, ‘Well, I’m the leader, not you.’
“I was thinking, ‘I know you dominated the race, but we came to a pit stop, and we did a better job than you guys. And as we did a better job than you guys, we are the leader, not you.’ Crazy enough–if he would have backed off and let me go, he would have probably passed me again. It would have been all good. He wanted to time it really well where he didn’t have to deal with me through Turns 1 and 2, but he mistimed it. That’s it–no drama.”
AN NBA PARALLEL?
Jeff Gordon’s take on the Dover restart produced the line of the afternoon. Gordon has been watching the NBA playoffs and has acquainted himself with the rule against “flopping,”–exaggerating the effects of a supposed foul and falling to the floor.
“I’ve been watching the NBA finals lately, and watching the flop, and that was as good of a flop as it gets,” Gordon quipped about Montoya’s role in Dover’s final restart.
Gordon’s primary sponsor, AXALTA, recently extended its agreement with Hendrick Motorsports through 2016. That doesn’t guarantee, however, that Gordon will be in the car that long.
“The next seasons ahead were not guaranteed, and so it’s pretty exciting to know that they have that interest and have been working with Hendrick to sign an extension,” Gordon said of the sponsorship. “I want to race for a long time, but I can’t say how long that is going to be at this time.”