Thursday Notebook: Dale Earnhardt Jr. harbors no hard feelings toward Jimmie Johnson
By: By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service, Superior Telegram
Fort Worth, Tex. -- Simmer down, Earnhardt Nation.
The way Dale Earnhardt Jr. sees it, those who bashed Jimmie Johnson for supposed selfish driving last Sunday at Martinsville were simply trying to stir up trouble.
Johnson slowed down and but didn't stop as Earnhardt was trying to gather his car from a spin off Turn 4 late in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at the .526-mile short track. Johnson passed Earnhardt, his teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, and put the No. 88 Chevrolet a lap down.
Earnhardt said Thursday at Texas Motor Speedway that he understood Johnson's decision and would have done the same thing under similar circumstances.
"Jimmie couldn't slow down," Earnhardt explained. "If you slow down, the guy behind you has the right to take the position. I lost a position to (Denny) Hamlin under caution at Phoenix, so I know all about that too well.
"Jimmie, leading the race, couldn't take the chance… he did actually try to slow down, and I think that he saw I had two left-side flat tires, and it was pretty pointless for him to wait. If he stopped at all, the guys behind him would have been able to pass him… I would have done the same thing. If I'm leading the race, I've got to think about my car, my team, what I'm trying to do."
Earnhardt's day had already gone south, the result of an improperly installed track bar mount. The track bar worked its way loose and dropped, tightening up the handling characteristics of the car and making it all but undrivable.
Earnhardt finished 24th, two laps down and dropped from first to third in the Cup standings, 12 points behind Johnson, the series leader.
Defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion says his Penske Racing organization has overcome initial reluctance to share information with fellow Ford organization Roush Fenway Racing, and he expects the alliance to benefit both teams.
"There's definitely going to always be some hesitancy to share information," Keselowski told the NASCAR Wire Service during a Thursday interview session behind his transporter. "We're still competing for the same trophy at the end of the day, but I think it's wise for both of us to acknowledge that we'd rather run first-second… I'd rather run second to a Roush car than finish 14th and be the best Ford.
"I think it's that spirit that will carry us to be the best we can be."
Keselowski said the cooperation between Penske and Roush Fenway has accelerated as the season has progressed.
"We've been sharing a lot of information, and I think the trust factor is just really now starting to build, and I think there's been more sharing of the last few weeks, really, than ever before," Keselowski said. "We had some issues with our cars at (Fontana) California that were manufacturer-related that the (Roush cars) didn't have, so we thought, ‘Well, we must be doing something wrong.'
"We were able to lean on them and find a solution, and hopefully that'll carry over to this weekend. That's the kind of things we hope to be able to help each other out with, and if we can reciprocate that back to them, we'll certainly do so."
Last fall's test at Texas Motor Speedway came at an important juncture in the development of NASCAR's new Gen-6 race car.
The Texas test was the last with a low-downforce package on the new car. NASCAR subsequently added downforce to the cars as the package gravitated toward the baseline used to start the 2013 debut season.
"Here at Texas, we were here early in October -- early October last fall -- and Texas is really one of the pivotal moments in the development of this car and the package that we wound up handing off to the teams to race this year," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition. "As everybody knows, as we talked throughout last fall and over the wintertime that we'd been through a lot of iterations on the car with high downforce and low downforce and tire tests and things of that nature.
"And with the guys that we had here -- Greg Biffle was one, I think Paul Menard was here, Kyle Busch, Juan Montoya and a few others -- but they worked really hard at helping us develop the package, and this was… it was a result of the test that those people help us put on here in the fall. It was important for us, and it really set the stage for what we have for 2013."
Kurt Busch was fastest in the first test session on Thursday, posting a lap at 191.225 mph. Busch ran 192.369 in the second session, but Greg Biffle topped him, running 192.864 mph to lead the field.
Sprint Cup drivers will have two practices Friday, followed by time trials.