Jeff Gluck, USA TODAY
Kevin Harvick punches Jimmie Johnson in chest in driver lot
JOLIET, Ill. -- Jimmie Johnson arrived at Kevin Harvick’s motorhome to talk things out and was greeted with a misleading smile, a punch to the chest and angry words.
This wasn’t how six-time champion Johnson or defending Sprint Cup Series champion Harvick envisioned starting NASCAR’s 10-race playoff. But there they were, arguing in the Chicagoland Speedway motorhome lot Sunday after Harvick finished 42nd – the result of contact from Johnson on a restart with 130 laps to go.
Moments before their confrontation, Harvick climbed from his damaged car and glanced around pit road for a brief moment, then started walking toward his motorhome to change clothes and leave his horrible day behind.
He stopped briefly to answer a few questions from reporters – first a gaggle of writers, then from NBC Sports Network – before continuing to the end of pit road.
“I just held my line and the 48 just slammed into the side of my door,” Harvick said of the controversial restart. “That was pretty much it.”
Was he worried about his Chase for the Sprint Cup hopes after leaving Chicago in 16th place, 22 points behind the 12th-place cutoff?
“We can win anywhere,” he said. “We could have won today. It’s just a matter of putting a couple days together and being able to come back to victory lane.”
Then he was off.
Further down pit road, though, Johnson was fielding questions about his pseudo-teammate (both drivers race in cars built by Hendrick Motorsports) who he has long considered a friend. Johnson said he got a shove from Joey Logano and had to go to the bottom to avoid Harvick and needed to get back up on the track.
"He didn’t leave me any space,” Johnson said. “He was pinning me down and I’ve got to get back up on the track. I wouldn’t say what he did was any different than other situations I’ve been in like that. When you’re in Kevin’s situation, you want to give the inside car a bad angle so they’ve got to lift. I was fine with lifting, but I had to get on the racetrack.”
Johnson said planned to go have a chat with Harvick about the incident – though he might have been caught off guard by how it turned out.
“I’m surprised he has that opinion right now,” Johnson said when told Harvick was upset. “So hopefully he’ll want to talk. There’s no telling what he’ll want to do.”
What he wanted to do was punch Johnson in the chest -- an action which resulted in some finger pointing from Johnson. Harvick's business manager Josh Jones got between the drivers to prevent it from getting more physical. Harvick's wife DeLana climbed out of a waiting white SUV and appeared to help coax her husband into the car, which was driven by Jones.
The California natives both came up through the ranks around the same time and in similar fashion, with both sleeping on veteran driver Ron Hornaday’s couch at one time or another. When Harvick won last year’s championship, he repeatedly talked about leaning on Johnson’s counsel about how to approach the title run.
But they weren’t on very good terms after the restart incident.
Though there was smoke from the damage after Johnson and Harvick touched wheels, spotter Tim Fedewa and crew chief Rodney Childers concluded it was quickly diminishing.
Perhaps it was, but the tire had already been weakened. Harvick suddenly spun out and slammed the wall hard, requiring him to spend 57 laps in the garage for repairs.
“I’m sure when you can consider yourselves teammates at times, teammates are supposed to push each other on restarts and not knock their doors in,” Childers said. “We just have to move on from it and go racing the next few weeks.”
As for Logano, he insisted he had “nothing to do” with the incident (although Johnson said a push from behind made him take it three-wide).
“The 48 went three-wide on the bottom and I was just sitting there,” Logano said. “So that’s the way I was part of it.”