In his five-year reign as Sprint Cup champion, the biggest criticism Jimmie Johnson has faced is that he too nice for NASCAR.
Well, on Friday at Watkins Glen International, Johnson shed that image with a barrage of biting barbs thrown at Kurt Busch in a fall out from a screaming match the pair had at the end of last week’s Good Sam RV Insurance 500 at Pocono Raceway.
Johnson all but called Busch a coward for avoiding a face-to-face confrontation in the post-race dust up.
In the final lap at Pocono, Johnson was attempting to pass Busch when the two came close to touching. Busch took that as a shot across the bow of his No. 22 Penske Racing Dodge by Johnson in the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
Busch came down the track and bumped Johnson and the two continued their jousting to the finsih line.
In the aftermath, Johnson got out of his car and leaned into the window of the No. 22 Dodge and accused Busch of deliberately trying to wreck him.
After that confrontation Johnson walked away, but Busch got out of his car and called out some insults to a retreating Johnson.
That is what caused Johnson to react so vehemently.
“I mean, if you are going to say something, say it to the man’s face and eye-to-eye when he is there,” Johnson said. “Don’t wait until he walks away.”
Johnson and Busch have a history of on-track confrontations, but this was their first pit-road encounter.
“There are two parts to this thing,” Johnson said. “First part is on the track; second part is pit road. The on-the-track part, we all know we come off of turn one and Kurt gets to me to side-draft me. I try to break the side-draft and then from there he felt it was necessary to run into the side of my car and tear my car up. So, yes, I was mad at that point.”
Johnson said he was ready to end the tiff right then but what happend next really ticked him off.
“I walk away ... and (all of a sudden) he got awfully tough,” Johnson said. “But that really makes me mad. Bottom line, he just started running his mouth.”
Johnson said that Busch has a history of doing this through his Sprint Cup career, citing the punch up between Busch and then-Cup driver Jimmy Spencer.
“It got my biggest fan (sarcasm) Jimmy Spencer to punch him in the face; it’s led to issues with NASCAR officials on pit road,” Johnson said. “At the end of the day, I’m not going to let him run his mouth at me. That is just kind of how it is.”
There has been much speculation that the two could take this feud to the next level on Saturday in the NASCAR Nationwide ZIPPO 200 where both are entered and neither is in the race for points.
But Johnson rejected that idea, saying it would be a waste of good sheet metal.
“My first option is to not tear up race cars,” he said. “I have too much respect for the guys working on my race car and too much respect for Roger Penske and his organization to take it out out there.”
But in the very next breath Johnson seemed to indicate that if Busch pushed him on Saturday it could be a re-make of Gunfight at the OK Corral for the pair.
“I made zero contact with Kurt at Pocono until he hit me, then I leaned on him back,” he said. “You don’t want enemies, issues, or anything lingering but you just don’t have that luxury at times.”
One thing for certain is that this pair will the centre of attention Saturday when the ZIPPO 200 gets started.