April 9, 2013

'You Find Out Who Your Friends Are'

Things weren't going well for Dale Jr. before the No. 48 passed
him, so that was the nail in the coffin of a bad day. (Getty)
Another week, another country music title.  I went with Garth Brooks's "Thunder Rolls" last month in a Bristol race preview; this week, it's the above title by Tim McGraw.

In this past Sunday's race at Martinsville Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. went for a spin, and when the field came back around as he was re-firing, race leader and teammate Jimmie Johnson pulled by him.  The result was that Junior ended up two laps down in 24th, where he finished the 500-lap race shortly thereafter.

The action drew the ire of Junior Nation, which has long had a vendetta against the five-time champion in the No. 48.

In general, I find this hatred to be unfounded.  Many of Junior's fans used to cheer for his father, one of the most successful drivers in the history of the sport.  When he tragically passed, the allegiance was transferred to someone with the same name in hopes that he would continue on the Earnhardt legacy of championships.  Instead, those championships have been won by Jimmie Johnson, and fans have held that against him and his team, much like us Red Sox fans hold the Yankees' success against them.

On Sunday, however, I can understand the disappointment from Junior Nation in Jimmie Johnson pulling around the No. 88 as it re-fired.  After all, every other car on the track held up to allow Dale Jr. to get back into formation, why couldn't the No. 48?

After the tough finish, Earnhardt Jr. said, "we know who our friends are out here," clearly a little miffed that he'd been snubbed by Johnson.

His crew chief, however, wasn't holding grudges.  "I would never expect a teammate who was leading in the race to help you not go two laps down," said Steve Letarte.  "That’s pretty embarrassing to ask him to do that."

Johnson, himself, aired his frustration on Twitter, sarcastically tweeting, "You haters have it right. I'm a bad teammate. I have a cheated up car, I'm lucky and the race was fixed. Gotta love twitter & #NascarFans." (Good point. How was it luck that he led 346 laps?)

In truth, while Earnhardt Jr. has the right to feel slighted, it probably wasn't something Johnson considered at the time. As Letarte suggested, Johnson's focus was winning the race.

Earlier in the STP Gas Booster 500, Ryan Newman had been penalized three laps for stopping on the track.  In 2010 at Sonoma, Marcos Ambrose slowed under caution while leading.  When his car failed to re-fire, he fell to seventh, which allowed Johnson to pick up his first Sonoma win.

Perhaps Johnson feared a penalty should he stop the pack on the track.  Perhaps when Junior reversed to the top of the track, he read it as a sign that he should lead the field by.  Whatever the case, it came off slightly rude, especially when the rest of the field held up - but it probably wasn't intended that way.

The thing that most disgruntled fans ignored was the fact that with only about 30 laps remaining, Earnhardt Jr. no longer had any shot at winning the race anyway.  He was sitting in 21st, one lap down, before the caution; he came out 24th, two laps down, after the caution.

Ultimately, while Junior and his fans have the right to be disappointed with a teammate nudging the No. 88 another lap down the pylon, there shouldn't be any blame toward suggesting that Jimmie cost him a fair chance in the race.

"No," said Letarte in regards to if there was an issue with the No. 48 team.  "The issue is when you run like crap and you get in the back."  A fair observation from a car that had just one of those days.


  1. If EVERY OTHER car out there stopped, why would it be deemed ACCIDENTAL or NOT ON PURPOSE that JJ went by? Can you POSSIBLY be that UNAWARE of what is going on around you? Of course JR could not win, but he might have finished a bit better. It was just a SLAP from someone whose crew chief promised "we owe you one" after a push from JR to win at Talladega a few years back. The 48 team respects NO ONE. Period.

    1. JJ was the 1st car in line coming around to Jr., he didn't know everybody else was going to stop. If the rolls were reversed do you think Jr would have stopped? Hell no he wouldn't. Just something else for all the Jr fans to cry about. He's in the best equipment out there and still can't win. He needs to hang it up.

    2. JR was backing up when JJ went by, and then started rolling forward, the car was already fired. I am sure JJ thought JR was letting the field go by. I would have done the same

    3. I think that JJ has his nose in the air and I do believe he has forgotten JR helping him at Talladega..I use to like JJ but he can kiss mine now. GO JR...KICK SOME BUTT BOY !

  2. All I have to say is that Jimmie would in no way hurt Junior. If the leader had not been Jimmie all this would not be going on...as a matter of fact I bet nothing would of been said. I think Jimmie just had winning on his mind. Junior was not going to be able to even come close to winning the race. I want nothing more than for Junior to win....but don't blame your already bad day on a teammate that would not intentionally hurt another teammate. Seriously why do you all find it appropriate to "hate" someone who is just successful?

  3. Also as far as Jimmie and Chad owing Junior - what the heck are you all complaining about...Did you want Jimmie to stop, push Junior all the way around the track and then push him one more lap oh and then push him across the finish line...seriously people think about it...whether Junior finished one lap, two or 22 laps down did it really matter that Jimmie went by.....or was it that Junior didn't win because of Jimmie????

  4. JJ was the 1st car in line coming around to Jr, how did he know everybody else was going to stop. JJ probably wasn't thinking about Jr being a lap or 2 laps down he was at Martinsville in 1st place with 30 laps left all that was on his mind was the checkered flag. If the rolls were reversed do you think Jr would have been thinking about JJ being 1 or 2 laps down? Hell no he would have been thinking about winning the race.


  6. The problem here is Steve Letarte..yes he is better than McGrew. However, the 88 still is not leading laps or winning races. Steve is a great manager, but not a championship caliber crew chief. He didn't win one with Jeff and won't with Jr. He is to conservative..yes Jr. was #1 in points, but that's because in a few races other drivers had late problems. Jr. has not been a real threat all year. Jr. normally qualifies last among the Hendrick cars and for the most part has only been a 10 place car. Yes, Steve is better than McGrew, but he is no Knause..Francis...or Gustason. Yes, JJ could have stopped and should have..but lets put the blame where it should be on Steve for giving Jr a bad car and making worse (Jr. comment) with bad adjustments.

  7. Just for the record: "You Find Out Who Your Friends Are" was a Tracy Lawrence song with cameo appearances by Tim McGraw, Toby Keith, Kenny Chesney and (I believe) George Strait.

  8. Yeah, uh next time JJ should just pull over and let us win because we like JR more and the only way he can win a race is for everyone else to sit in the pits while he drives around the track by himself. JR fans continually show how stupid they are.