Jeff Gordon said in the offseason that the success of teammate Jimmie Johnson with four consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championships has put a strain on their friendship.
After the race Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, one would ask, what friendship?
The feud between the Hendrick Motorsports’ teammates seemed to hit the tipping point, especially evident after Gordon’s post-race comments during the live television coverage.
“The 48 (Johnson) is testing my patience, I can tell you that,” said Gordon, during an interview with FOX. “It takes a lot to make me mad, and I am pissed right now. When a car’s going that much faster, I don’t know what it is with me and him right now—but whatever.”
In the final laps at Talladega, it appeared that Johnson forced Gordon below the yellow line (out of bounds at Talladega) when Gordon had a powerful draft. The block forced Gordon to slow down, stacking up traffic behind him.
The first appearances of a feud between the two drivers that share a shop at Hendrick Motorsports was in last week’s race at Texas Motor Speedway. Johnson was upset over how aggressive Gordon was racing him early in the race.
Ironically, Gordon hand-picked Johnson to drive the 48 car back in 2001, and became full time in 2002. Since then, Johnson has become the most successful driver at NASCAR’s top level, since his mentor, Jeff Gordon.
No matter which driver you pull for, you have to love a good rivalry. However, you don’t like to see a rivalry inside the same team.
Fans believe Gordon has regained the fire that he had back in the 1990s, but Gordon maintains that the fire has always been there. The reason it is being seen this year: Gordon is being given some of the best cars in recent memory.
Johnson, on the other hand, has dominated the sport the past 8 years, including the run of four consecutive championships. For the first time in the run of championships, however, he is feeling threatened by another driver.
Whether the admission of guilt in the incident Monday was prompted by team owner Rick Hendrick or just a self-admission, Johnson seems to try and continue to take the corporate high road through this feud.
It kind of reminds this race fan of when a brash California kid entered the sport to challenge its long standing Southern roots.
After the Dale Earnhardt Sr.-Jeff Gordon feuds of the 90s, it is the ultimate corporate driver versus the series’ status quo. Johnson, who is the perfect face for any potential sponsor is facing off against a NASCAR veteran.
Like the Earnhardt-Gordon rivalry of the 90s, this rivalry is fueled more than anything for the immense respect each driver has for the other.
Lets face it, there had to have been something that told Gordon that fellow California native Johnson would bring him four consecutive owners championships (Gordon is officially the listed owner of Johnson’s 48 car, even though Rick Hendrick truly owns the team).
Is it the best thing for the sport’s two top drivers and teammates are engaging in an intense rivalry? Who knows.
Regardless, NASCAR, a sport that is struggling in attendance, television ratings, and attracting new sponsors and fans will ride the explosion of this rivalry as long as it can.