Denny Hamlin won and is now locked in to the second round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Good for Hamlin, but that’s not what made the news. When I woke up Monday morning and started flipping about the cable news channels, I saw another NASCAR story on Fox News and CNN.
You know, the one about the “fight” between Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson after the first Chase race at Chicagoland Speedway.
In case you missed it, on lap 135 of the race Joey Logano made contact with Johnson, who then made contact with Harvick. Harvick developed a tire rub, which led to a blown tire, which led to a spin and a torn up No. 4 Chevy. Harvick, last year’s champion finished 58 laps down in 42nd place.
Not exactly how you want to start your title defense.
Harvick was extremely unhappy with the contact. “I just held my ground and he just slammed into the side of the door like I wasn’t even there,” Harvick after the race.
Johnson went to find Harvick post race in the drivers’ motorhome lot. Harvick wasn’t very happy to see him and didn’t want to hear what he had to say, so he gave Johnson a little shove in the chest.
Of course the NBC cameras caught it all, so the fracas became all the rage in the news cycle. Honestly, I have seen better fights over snacks at my kid’s daycare. It was reminiscent of the Jeff Gordon/Jeff Burton slap fight at Texas a few years back. At least neither Johnson nor Harvick had on their helmets.
Johnson wasn’t letting Harvick lay the blame on him for the incident.
“He didn’t leave me any space,” said Johnson, who went on to finish 11th.
“He was pinning me down (on the apron), and I had to get back up on the track. I wouldn’t say that what he did was any different than other situations I’ve been in like that.
“When you are in his position, you want to get the inside car in a bad angle so they have to lift. I was fine with lifting, but I had to get back on the racetrack, so I worked my way back up on the track.”
Two things: 1. He didn’t bump you. He didn’t hit you. He rubbed you, and rubbing, son, is racing. I hate use the money quote from Days of Thunder this early in this column’s run, but I have to. It’s racing for a championship. There is going to be contact.
Rubbing leads to parts of your car rubbing other parts of your car. It happens. Harvick has never shied away from contact, intentional or otherwise, on the track. There are major things at stake here and sometimes people are going get out of a corner with less than they had when they got into it.
2. Good for Harvick for giving me something to write about. Sure I could have written something about the call that Dave Rogers made to keep Hamlin out on the last caution, but otherwise the race was another 1.5-mile snooze-fest. Spats between your last two champions make for good stories, even if they are not all that Fox News make them out to be.
This should also make things interesting for the next nine weeks. Here you have two guys who would be considered among four drivers who have the best chances of winning a championship this year.
And if we know anything from Harvick in his 15 years in Cup, he’s not one to let bygones be bygones and will be looking for a little retribution for Johnson’s slight — real or perceived — in the weeks to come.
Andy Cagle writes a weekly column about NASCAR. Follow him on Twitter @Andy_Cagle.