Jimmie Johnson: Single-File Racing Was Not a Protest Against NASCAR

Kelly CrandallSenior Writer INovember 4, 2009

TALLADEGA, AL - NOVEMBER 01:  Casey Mears, driver of the #07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet, leads a single file draft during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AMP Energy 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on November 1, 2009 in Talladega, Alabama.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

During the AMP Energy 500 at the Talladega Superspeedway, NASCAR fans saw something they weren't accustomed to, and something they weren't happy about.

For much of the race, they witnessed 43 drivers line up and ride single-file around the top side of the track. Hardly pulling out to pass and create the exciting three-wide action that makes Talladega what it is.

Instead, all the drivers seemed to be content to just go around in circles and they rode around until it was time to settle who would take home the win.

It was only then that the accidents occurred.

After the race was over and everyone was done complaining about the ride that Ryan Newman took and what should be done to change the track, the focus turned to what happened during the race.

Speculation began run wild that the 43 drivers decided to prove a point to NASCAR because of what took place in the drivers meeting earlier that morning.

NASCAR officials warned all drivers that they would not be allowed to bump-draft in the corners, just like in years past, only this time if NASCAR shows it happening, they would add a penalty to it.

Another NASCAR rule that came out in the meeting was that two cars could not hook up, like Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski did in the spring, and shoot past the field and to the front of the pack.

NASCAR said they wanted to see sunshine between the cars.

As soon as the meeting was over, drivers were furious.

Denny Hamlin said that he signed up to drive race cars, not to be told by NASCAR how to. He felt strongly that they should be allowed to race as they see fit.

So on Sunday, when all the drivers lined up and created what many said was a snooze-fest, Dale Jarrett wondered out loud during the broadcast if the drivers did so on purpose.

That opened the flood gate for everyone else to feel the same way.

But earlier this week, both Elliott Sadler and Greg Biffle said that was in no way what took place. Sadler went as far as to say that you couldn't get 43 drivers to agree to do anything, much less ride around.

On Tuesday, champion Jimmie Johnson, who rode around in 30th place until the final 20 laps of the race, took the same position that Sadler and Biffle did. 

Johnson said there was no truth to the rumor that the drivers were trying to pull a fast one. 

"No, there's not truth to that. When we hit single-file like that, we just know there's no need to race at that point," he said. "All that matters is from that last pit stop on."

Fans, though, still aren't convinced and are fighting mad in belief that NASCAR made the race boring and that the drivers were forced to do that they did. Fans are convinced that the drivers meeting had an impact on what they witnessed on Sunday.

Johnson, however, says otherwise. 

A "normal" Talladega race consists of side-by-side racing for all 188 laps and wrecks every couple of laps. That's why it's called a wild card race—because anything can and most likely will happen.

Because of that, by the time the end of the race approaches, there are only a handful of cars left that will be able to take home the win. That didn't happen on Sunday, and people weren't happy.

Instead of deciding to wreck and dwindle down the field on Sunday, Johnson said the drivers finally got smart about how to approach the race. Everyone seemed to realize that you can't win if you aren't around at the end.

Johnson then defended NASCAR by saying that all the criticism they are receiving because of what was said in the meeting had nothing to do with the racing.

"The real impact was we didn't want to wreck. We knew we were going to wreck," he said.

"We knew we were going to cause a big wreck, it's just what racing does, and everybody was minding their manners and being responsible up until we could see the checkered flag essentially and that's when things started to get crazy and we crashed."

Johnson does understand the frustration the fans are feeling, though. 

"The bottom line—somebody is going to be unhappy. The fans that want to see the big wrecks and want to see four and five wide are going to be upset," he stated. "And right now they're upset because we were responsible as drivers and tried not to wreck earlier in the race. 

But as fans have become accustomed to doing, they're once again pointing fingers at NASCAR, not the drivers behind the wheel, but at NASCAR for controlling too much of the racing. 

"The fans can be upset and be upset at NASCAR, but, at the end of the day, the reason we weren't three- and four-wide is because we didn't want to be," Johnson said. "We wanted to ride single file. We wanted to log miles and have a better chance at finishing the race."


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.