Johnson drives into a Grand Am feud
Jimmie Johnson may have walked into a hornet's nest when he decided to double-dip this weekend between his regular NASCAR Sprint Cup gig at Pocono Raceway and the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series race at Watkins Glen International.
The four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup and defending Series champion is stepping into a long-time Grand-Am Rolex Series rivalry between Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates and the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing team. That rivalry heated up in the series' most recent event at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut on Memorial Day.
Johnson has teamed with GAINSCO Racing regular drivers Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty for the past three Rolex 24 at Daytona endurance contests, earning a second-place overall finish together in 2008. He'll join them again for Saturday's Sahlen's Six Hours of the Glen, which begins at 2 p.m.
Ganassi teammates Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas were seeking a record fourth consecutive series victory at Lime Rock, but their race ended just seconds after the start. Rojas' No. 01 Telmex BMW-Riley was hit and forced off the track by Fogarty in the first turn. The Ganassi car was heavily damaged and eventually forced out of the race. The series points leaders finished last.
"This rivalry with the 99 car has been ongoing since they came into the series (in 2005)," Pruett said in a teleconference Tuesday. "When you have cars that are so competitive anywhere -- we are running wheel-to-wheel, fender-to-fender the whole time -- there is a bit of give-and-take. Sometimes, one driver might take more than his fair share."
The teams' biggest clash came while battling for the 2007 championship. Their cars collided twice in the dramatic series finale at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah. Fogarty banged into Pruett's car while making a pass. Later in the race, Pruett slammed into the rear of the GAINSCO car with Gurney at the wheel. That contact resulted in both cars spinning and a drive-through penalty for Pruett. In the end, the GAINSCO team finished ahead of the Ganassi team to take its first title.
On Tuesday, Pruett described what took place in Utah as "an ugly incident."
"It just kind of continues to sometimes just sit there and fester and other times bring it to a head, like we saw last weekend," he said. "But I know that the fans love seeing that kind of controversy on the racetrack. Those things happen."
For his actions on Monday, Fogarty was assessed with a drive-through penalty from Grand-Am officials for "avoidable contact."
"I am racing out there, and I am going to race hard, especially against them," Fogarty said in a team statement. "We can't let that car get in front of us; they are just too hard to get past. I am sure he's pretty upset because his race ended in Turn 1, and that's unfortunate. My intent was to keep him behind me and not to see his car destroyed."
Strangely, Pruett said GAINSCO owner Bob Stallings told him before Monday's race that "We hope you crash."
"I'm sure he did it in jest," Pruett said. "Still, for his driver to run into my teammate, the whole thing ... then for what Fogarty said in the interview, that he meant to do it; that's just not the way we play. That's not the way we race."
NASCAR is largely a contact sport among its competitors, so on-track rivalries are nothing new for Johnson. But the Hendrick Racing driver better not think his first venture onto the Glen's 3.4-mile course layout will be just a fun diversion from his regular day-today job. He should be prepared for a potential dogfight.
Johnson, who will also compete in Sunday's Gillette Fusion ProGlide 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Pocono, will commute between the tracks on Friday and Saturday.