Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson Back To Playing Mind Games
The last time a driver not named Jimmie Johnson won the Sprint Cup Series championship was back in 2005, when Tony Stewart hoisted his second title.
Stewart and Johnson put on a show during the Chase for the Championship in 2005 and were separated by 52 points heading into the season finale.
Johnson wound up crashing in turn three after having a tire explode; he ended the year fifth in points as Stewart celebrated on the big stage.
It was a disappointing finish to what was built up to be a knock out fight.
Just weeks earlier sitting first and second in points, both Stewart and Johnson were preparing for battle at the Martinsville Speedway when Johnson's crew chief Chad Knaus tried to give his team and driver a little motivation over the radio.
Motivation that involved comments about Tony Stewart saying that the 48 team was better.
Stewart heard of the remarks and wasn't too pleased about it. "It's like being inside a kindergarten room listening to it," he said and added that it was childish games.
Johnson defended his crew chief and said that Knaus was just trying to get the Lowe's team pumped up.
Stewart got the last laugh at season's end. But since then it's been all Johnson at the top of the points standings and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series by winning the last three-straight Cup titles.
However, that wasn't the first time that the two didn't see eye-to-eye.
The first race of the 2005 season, the Daytona 500, had Johnson and Stewart knocking fenders all the way from turn four to the finish line on the final lap. Even after the checkered flag they continued to trade paint going into turn one on the cool down lap.
Later that year, Johnson sent Stewart spinning at Phoenix and both blamed each other for the wreck.
Johnson said that Stewart gets mad every time he tries to pass him and that "he starts flipping me off and chopping me and running me all over the place."
Stewart replied by saying that he didn't know what Johnson was doing. "He was running guys up and down the racetrack. He about ran [Dale Earnhardt] Junior into the wall and I about ran into Junior because of that. And then he finally put me backwards."
In March of 2007, while racing for the lead with seven laps to go at Atlanta, Johnson made a move on Stewart, who was leading, and then moved up the track in front of Stewart.
Stewart hit the wall and angrily shook his fist at Johnson as he completed the pass.
Johnson went on to win the race with Stewart being the bridesmaid.
Last September in Richmond Stewart once again played the Bridesmaid to Johnson when he couldn't run down the 48 after being beaten off pit road.
Fast forward to 2009 and NASCAR's two recent champions just can't seem to get enough of each other.
Four weeks ago in Dover, DE, Stewart was leading with just 10 laps to go, that was before Johnson demolished the field and hunted Stewart down and passed him for the lead and the win with two laps to go.
Stewart responded a week later by wining at Pocono while Johnson, battling for second, ran out of gas on the white flag lap.
Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Tony Stewart did his part to relight the fuse for another championship battle.
Stewart is the current points leader in his No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet and Johnson his unofficial teammate, sits third 157 markers behind.
The Chase starts in 10 weeks but Stewart is already trying to get into Johnson's head, reminiscent of Knaus four years ago.
Speaking to the media Stewart remarked, "How scary is it for the No. 48 that a new team is on top of the points?"
Stewart no doubt remembers 2005 as well as how 2009 has already shaped up.
Each are talented drivers, each have great equipment and the desire to win. And each one can get testy in the heat of the moment.
Who know how Johnson will react to Stewart's comments if and when he might hear about them.
But, on Sunday at New Hampshire, Stewart will lead the field to the green flag and the driver that will have a windshield full of Stewart's back bumper will be none other than Jimmie Johnson.
If the Stewart-Johnson history repeats itself, the summer months won't be the only things heating up.
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