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NASCAR: Saturday Michigan Notebook

by racedaysaeditor | Posted on Saturday, August 10th, 2019

By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

 

Jimmie Johnson vs. Ryan Blaney: A matter of respect

Jimmie Johnson felt he deserved an apology from Ryan Blaney.

Ryan Blaney believes he deserves respect from the seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion.

As of Friday afternoon at Michigan International Speedway, neither driver had gotten what he wanted in the aftermath of an collision that sent Johnson’s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet into the tire barrier last Sunday at Watkins Glen International.

To Blaney, it was a racing incident born of two drivers fighting for the same position. To Johnson, it was a case of getting run over. Johnson confronted Blaney on pit road after the race, but the conversation produced no satisfactory resolution.

Johnson expected a call or text from Blaney during the week. None came.

“I was (ticked) off, I was crashed, I got drove through, plain and simple,” Johnson said. “I don’t care how it looks or how it’s perceived. I got dumped, and I was upset. The way I was raised and I went racing was when something like that happens you go talk to the guy. I was taught not to use my car as a weapon, go out and try to crash a guy back.

“Fighting is really not my thing either, unless I have to defend myself, so I went there and talked to the guy and hoped to hear a different side of the story than what I thought took place in the car. So that’s the way I was raised in racing and the way I handled it…

“All I can speak to is the way I know I would handle things. Wrong, right or indifferent, I’ve always made an effort to talk to the person. I have learned more about Ryan’s point of view through reading articles than I have from out of his mouth, and that part bothers me. It’s pretty sad.”

Johnson noted after the pit road conversation that Blaney’s lip was quivering during the exchange. Blaney took offense to the characterization.

“I was pretty disappointed what he said after the race—and that pretty much confirmed that I wasn’t going to check back in with him,” Blaney said on Friday at Michigan. “That really (ticked) me off. I raced Jimmie with a lot of respect, and I let him chew my ass out for two minutes or whatever it was and was very respectful and gave me his side of the story.

“And then for him to say what he did after we got done talking, that pretty much solidified that that respect has dwindled down a lot. Obviously, that respect doesn’t go both ways. It showed me he doesn’t have respect for me.

“That really upset me. If I see him around, I’m sure we’ll have words. But I’m not going to reach out, because we talked after the race and what else is going to be solved?”

The chances of Johnson and Blaney running into each other off the track rose substantially at Michigan. By happenstance, their motor homes are parked next to each other in the driver lot.

RICKY STENHOUSE JR. FACING WIN-OR-BUST SCENARIO

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is a realist, and he can do the math.

Given that Stenhouse is 20th in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings, 78 points behind the last eligible Playoff position, Stenhouse knows only too well that there’s only one path to NASCAR’s postseason.

“One hundred percent, we have to win,” Stenhouse said on Friday at Michigan International Speedway, site of Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400 (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). “It’s a bummer, because I feel like we have been fast compared to the previous years, at least on the 1.5-mile tracks.

“It’s a bummer that we are kind of in that spot, but I think we can get our car good here and strategy—there are all different ways these races can play out. I don’t think Michigan is our best opportunity to win, but I do think it is an opportunity that if the situation arises that you might be able to get something done. Bristol is by far the one that we circle.”

Stenhouse is right to consider Bristol his best hope. Though both his career Cup victories have come on superspeedways, Stenhouse has four top fives in 13 starts at Thunder Valley, including second-place runs in 2014 and 2016. In this year’s spring race, Stenhouse had a fast No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, but a backstretch wreck on the second lap of the event ruined his chances.

“I think Bristol is our race track to go in and do what we need to do,” Stenhouse said. “I’m bummed in the spring that we didn’t get to race and show exactly how much speed we had, because throughout the weekend in practice that was by far the best race car that I have ever had at Bristol.

“I know we have ran second there and struggled in practice and qualifying. I was bummed that we didn’t get to show that speed. I’m thinking that, when we go back there, we will have that same speed and hopefully showcase what we’ve got.”

A position in the Playoffs likely depends on it.

KEVIN HARVICK WOULD LIKE TO SEE MORE STICKY STUFF

A few brave souls, including pole winner Brad Keselowski, Ryan Newman and perennial rim-rider Kyle Larson, ventured up into the PJ1 traction compound during Saturday’s early morning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice at Michigan International Speedway.

BROOKLYN, MICHIGAN – AUGUST 09: Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Mobil 1 Ford, walks to his car during qualifying for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 09, 2019 in Brooklyn, Michigan. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Notably, Kyle Busch tested the higher lanes in final practice and found momentum there.

But that wasn’t the norm. Most drivers stayed in the lower lanes not treated with the PJ1—but with knowledge that the higher lanes would be available if needed in Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400 (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

The consensus among drivers is that the application of the PJ1 for the first time at Michigan is a good move, but most would like to see the compound applied lower on the racing the surface than it currently is.

“I wish that PJ1 was a little further down,” said Kevin Harvick, who was fastest in the first Saturday practice at 190.501 mph. “We’d already have that third groove run in. I saw the 42 (Larson) and the 6 (Newman) and couple of cars up there running in it.

“We really need that groove to be there (Sunday) to give everybody three choices instead of two… It looks like right now it (the PJ1) needs to come down about three or four feet.”  

No matter the location, drivers will use the treated lanes on Sunday to find clean air in the corners and maintain momentum.

“Track position still trumps the speed in the cars, because you have to position yourself correctly,” Harvick said. “In the swarm, you kind of have to just maintain and try not to put yourself in a bad position to lose a bunch of spots.

Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Mobil 1 Ford, during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 09, 2019 in Brooklyn, Michigan. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

“Once they get singled out, you can start to use the speed of the car to really navigate ‘em one by one. So it’s definitely an interesting practice.”

Final Cup practice was interesting for Daniel Suarez, too, but not in a way he would have liked. Roughly halfway through the session, a punctured left rear tire sent Suarez rocketing toward the outside wall.

Suarez executed a deft save after slight contact with the barrier and slid across three lanes of traffic without hitting anything else.

“The good part is (the damage to) the car is not that bad,” Suarez said after the incident. “I feel like I did a decent job trying to keep the car out of the wall. But we’ll see. Hopefully, we’ve got a little bit of a break, and we can fix it.”

Erik Jones, who brings a string of four straight top-five-finishes to MIS, paced Happy Hour with a speed of 189.843 mph. Alex Bowman was second on the speed chart, followed by Harvick.

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