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Earnhardt says Johnson pitting at Daytona no big deal

SPARTA, Ky. --Pure and simple, Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s fans thought Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus violated their gentlemen's agreement when they opted to pit late in last Saturday's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona while Earnhardt remained on the...

SPARTA, Ky. --Pure and simple, Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s fans thought Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus violated their gentlemen's agreement when they opted to pit late in last Saturday's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona while Earnhardt remained on the track.

Johnson was supposed to push Earnhardt to victory--or at least try to--as a return favor from Talladega, where a push from Earnhardt got Johnson to the finish line .002 seconds ahead of Clint Bowyer.

Earnhardt fans viewed Knaus' call to bring Johnson to the pits on Lap 159--before the first of two attempts at a green-white-checkered-flag finish--as a broken promise, and they bombarded Johnson's Twitter account with angry postings. Over time, Johnson said, the postings became more conciliatory.

"As time went on and the more I checked in on Twitter, I saw a lot of support from his fans," Johnson said Friday at Kentucky Speedway. "In the beginning, there was plenty of creative messages on there for me.

"As time went on, I was really impressed and appreciate the support from Junior Nation and then also my fan base defending me, and still, at the end of the day, every fan is entitled to their own opinion. There are different things that exist inside the garage area and a different reality than people see. It's been fun. It was my first real experience to how active social media can be following a race."

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Earnhardt said he was surprised at the strong reaction from his fan base.

"I was, but these people are passionate," Earnhardt said. "I don't know if I should be that surprised by anything (with) the fans, because they're passionate, you know. They get it in their minds what they think is right, what they think happened, and they just run with it.

"People have strong opinions. I heard about how they beat on Jimmie a little on his Twitter page. I told him--I called him up--I said, 'Now you know why I don't have Twitter.' I'd be getting it every week."

About the perceived slight itself, Earnhardt said there were no hard feelings. Both Earnhardt and Johnson said they haven't even discussed the matter. After all, Earnhardt was moving toward the front, with help from Jeff Burton, before a huge wreck off the final corner knocked him sideways into the infield grass.

"They (Johnson and Knaus) made a decision to do one thing, and we did another, and there really wasn't much else to it," Earnhardt told Sporting News. "It was pretty cut and dried. It didn't really bother me at all. I figured that Jimmie would still have a good opportunity to get up to me and help us--and we're in fine shape, until people forgot how to drive, or people thought that they could disobey the laws of physics, or whatever they were trying to do."

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