It took nearly all day Friday, but Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson finally commented about the shoving match that took place at Chicagoland Speedway last Sunday. Both drivers avoided making any comments for most of the day Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway instead focusing on fans and their respective cars during the first practice.
However, both drivers finally met with the media after Friday afternoons qualifying session and each spoke separately about the on-track and subsequent off track meetings a week prior. It all started on a restart after a caution on lap 133 at Chicagoland Speedway. Harvick was on the inside line starting second when Johnson, who got a big push from fifth place Joey Logano, drove under Harvick and onto the apron as the field raced towards turn 1. Johnson came back onto the track and his Chevy made contact with the Chevy of Harvick. On lap 137 the left rear tire blew as Harvick was entering turn 3. The Chevy spun backwards and made hard contact with the wall bringing out the caution. After repairs, Harvick returned to the race but finished 42nd over 50 laps down. Johnson finished the day 11th. Harvick left Chicago, 16th, last place in the NASCAR Chase. He was only elevated to 15th this week after NASCAR penalties took 25 points from Clint Bowyer.
After the race Johnson went to Harvick’s motorhome. Harvick emerged in street clothes and pushed Johnson. Harvick was held back as Johnson moved away. The two were separated and Harvick eventually got into a vehicle and left.
“I’m just here so I don’t get fined,” Harvick said laughing Friday when reporters cornered him after qualifying. Harvick seemed more than ready to move on. He faces elimination if he is not inside the top 12 in the Chase standings after the next race following New Hampshire.
“I don’t have a lot to say about any of it,” the Stewart-Haas Racing driver said. “I’m here to race and do what I have to do to do what I need to do in the next two weeks.”
Harvick said his focus is on the future. Not on what happened last week.
“I don’t look back,” Harvick said. “I just do what we have to do to focus on what we need to do looking forward. We are not going to use you guys to make threats. I can do that myself.”
Harvick started his attempt to rebound in positive fashion Friday. He transferred into the third and final session of qualifying at New Hampshire Friday and had the pole for half of the final five minutes. Carl Edwards was able to best him however; still Harvick will roll off second Sunday beside Edwards who won his second straight New Hampshire pole.
“I still think there are a few different ways that you make it into the next round,” Harvick said. “In this situation last year when we were in Phoenix a second-place finish still wouldn’t have gotten us into where we needed to be to move on in the Chase without a win. So, I think you still have to go out with the mentality of trying to win a race. I think everybody around us knows that. I think they are very aware of the aggressive nature that we need to go after that win.”
Harvick’s nemesis, Johnson was a little more direct about the incident. He said that he and Harvick had not spoken since last Sunday.
“Obviously I wanted to go to his Motorhome and try to talk to him about the situation at that point in time,” Johnson said. “I’ve been on the flip side of that before and although I wasn’t happy to see whoever it was. It meant something to me and I appreciated the fact that they came to my bus to see me. That is all I was trying to do there.”
Johnson ,a six-time NASCAR champion, admitted he might be confronted. He said he wasn’t surprised Harvick was upset.
“Believe me I knew good and well going over there that he wasn’t going to be in the best mood,” Johnson said. “ It was just important to me to try and make contact with him and try to talk to him. Based on experiences that I’ve had in the position that it has put me in. That is what led me to going over there.”
He also seemed to have a bit of empathy for Harvick. With 204 Sprint Cup starts since 2001, Johnson has had his share of crashes on the track that have left him with poor finishes.
“It really was a racing incident,” Johnson said. “I was just trying to get back on the racetrack. Unfortunately, that contact took place. It just sucks for those guys. I mean I feel for Kevin. I feel for Rodney (Childers, crew chief). I feel for the Stewart-Haas folks, for Tony (Stewart), Gene (Haas) that is not the situation that any of us wanted to have happen. Unfortunately, it’s racing there was a lot going on on that restart and we had the contact.”
The Hendrick Motorsports driver also had a good day on the track Friday. He too, advanced to the final round and will start 5th Sunday; only two rows back from Harvick.
“I truthfully don’t know what to expect,” Johnson said. “I certainly know what I hope for, but there is no telling what will end up taking place. I think that is the exciting part about this Chase and the way you can advance, the way you can win to carry on and the intensity that it brings. So, it’s definitely going to be an exciting Chase for everyone and right now everybody is focused on us, but who is to know after this weekend what conflict on track is going to be the next story.”