CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Fans of Dale Earnhardt Jr. have spent the last four years believing that Jimmie Johnson owed his teammate a favor for pushing Johnson to the win at Talladega Superspeedway in 2011.
Some felt the payback finally came Sunday when Johnson was accused of “letting” Earnhardt win Talladega. The notion grew out of the final 20-plus laps of the race, run mostly as a single-file parade with Earnhardt leading and Johnson following in second.
Johnson never pulled out of line to attempt to pass his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, and Earnhardt collected his sixth career win at the Alabama superspeedway.
“It’s the most ridiculous thing ever,” Johnson said, noting most of the conversation about his alleged deliberate attempt to allow Earnhardt to win was on social media, where fans told him ” ‘You owed us, thanks for letting Junior win.'”
“I’m like, ‘For one, I didn’t owe you. Two, you’re taking away what your driver did. He won the race. You’re acting like I just let him win the race,'” Johnson said.
Johnson remained adamant that he was determined to win the race for himself, and had planned to make his move exiting the final turn. But he needed either help from the cars behind him, or a second lane on the bottom of the track to push him, and neither scenario developed.
“I gave it my all, but it just wasn’t in the cards,” Johnson said.
Earnhardt has maintained all along that he knew any move from Johnson wouldn’t come before the final lap, and that he saw in his rearview mirror that Johnson didn’t get any help from anyone else in line to execute a pass.
“I knew he would wait ’til the end because that was his best chance to win and not ruin the race for both of us,” Earnhardt said. “When he started to put things together, the guys behind him wanted to pass him instead of push him.”
He also downplayed the idea that Johnson has ever owed Earnhardt anything, and praised the six-time champion for being the consummate teammate, professional and friend.
“I don’t think we owe each other anything other than to treat each other like men and professionals,” Earnhardt said. “I don’t know how many times I’ve actually pushed him to a win — my fans maybe feel like it’s three or four times, but I think it was really only once. They are very critical of Jimmie. He takes it in stride, he does really well with that criticism.
“I think I’m fortunate to be his teammate because I’ve certainly become a better driver being around him, learning from him. He’s certainly helped me improve.”
DOUBLE DUTY: NASCAR team owner Tommy Baldwin will return to his old role as crew chief beginning this week at Kansas Speedway.
Baldwin owns his Sprint Cup Series team and found himself in need of a crew chief beginning this week when Kevin “Bono” Manion left to join Richard Petty Motorsports. With an immediate hole to fill, Baldwin decided to take over the No. 7 Chevrolet team that is driven by Alex Bowman.
“I’m very happy for Bono, we’ve been friends a long time, and I wish him nothing but the best,” said Baldwin. “Climbing atop the pit box is somewhat of a familiar role for me and I look forward to working with Alex.”
Baldwin was a longtime crew chief — he led Ward Burton to victories in the 2002 Daytona 500 and the 2001 Southern 500 — before becoming a car owner seven years ago.
ALL-STAR RACE-FIERI: NASCAR’s annual Sprint All-Star Race will feature TV personality Guy Fieri as the grand marshal and honorary pace car driver.
Fieri is best known for his hit Food Network TV shows “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” and “Guy’s Big Bite,” as well as his appearances as a judge on “Next Food Network Star.”
Fieri will give the command for drivers to start their engines before the 30th running of next week’s All-Star race. He’ll then jump behind the wheel of the official Charlotte Motor Speedway Toyota Camry pace car to lead the field to green.
Fieri drove the pace car for the Indianapolis 500 in 2012.
INDYCAR-MANUFACTURER RACE: Chevrolet has won three of the first four IndyCar races, but is trailing rival Honda in the updated manufacturer points standings.
IndyCar on Wednesday adjusted the points for both manufacturers based on last weekend’s open test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The sanctioning body awarded Honda 30 bonus points for reaching the life cycle minimum for three of its engines. The rules are designed to give a 10-point bonus for every engine that makes it 2,500 miles.
Although Chevrolet had two engines reach the threshold, the manufacturer did not receive bonus points because the engines had undergone non-minor repairs.
Chevrolet was also docked 20 points for an engine that failed to reach its life cycle because Charlie Kimball’s engine was changed before it hit 2,500 miles.
The points adjustments gave Honda a 380-216 lead over Chevrolet headed into this weekend’s road course race at Indianapolis.
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