The Frontstretch: Teamwork at Hendrick? Johnson Should Know Better by Thomas Bowles -- Monday October 9, 2006

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Teamwork at Hendrick? Johnson Should Know Better

Bowles-Eye View · Thomas Bowles · Monday October 9, 2006


One final lap on NASCAR's fastest superspeedway. That's all that stood between a jubilant Jimmie Johnson and Victory Lane Sunday, a signature win destined to get him back in the championship Chase. For Brian Vickers running behind him, he could have seen an opportunity lying ahead, too – a chance to perhaps write his name on a Nextel Cup trophy for the first time in 107 starts. Either way, it looked like nothing could go wrong as the Hendrick cars, ranked second and third, barreled down the back straightaway at 200 miles per hour, both with runs that would push them in front of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and clearly win the race for one of them.

Then, the front bumper of Vickers touched the back bumper of Johnson, and the speeds at Talladega could scarcely compare with the quickness through which the world of Hendrick Motorsports promptly imploded.

Six months ago, I wrote a "story" titled Cruel finish about how Brian Vickers was robbed of his first victory at Talladega in the Spring. Let's flash back to that moment : Vickers, putting himself in perfect position over the race's final laps, had vaulted himself into the lead with teammate Johnson pushing him on his back bumper. All they had to do was stay in line over the final 2.66 miles, and Vickers would have been standing in Victory Lane showered in champagne, smiles mixed with tears as the young star reminded us of lives lost in that Hendrick helicopter tragedy of nearly two years ago, including best friend and former team owner Ricky Hendrick. The monkey of a winless streak finally off his back, the storyline heading into Talladega this October could just as easily have been how all four Hendrick drivers, not three, were racing hard in the Chase for the Championship this year.

But teammates were not destined to work together on that day. Pulling out with a full head of steam, Johnson blew by him with help and went on to win the race. Afterwards, he was hardly apologetic, claiming he owed it to his sponsors to do everything he could to post the victory. It wasn't a team sport for Hendrick at that moment - it was every man for himself.

Well, that last lap pass was the time of momentum builder that sent Johnson's team over the top - and Vickers' team over the edge. The No. 25 car crashed out of the next three races, and by June Vickers saw his chances for the Chase disappear - as well as his desire to keep racing with Hendrick. Opting out of his contract, Vickers was on his way to a new opportunity with a new team, while the other three men in the Hendrick stable were well on their way to battling for a championship.

The move to switch teams for 2007, though, didn't mean Vickers lost his desire for gaining a victory for his fallen friend and an organization responsible for jumpstarting his career in Nextel Cup. Yet, since that announcement back about four months ago it appears the other Hendrick drivers look at him as little more than someone still on the team merely to help them succeed. Between Jeff Gordon's criticism towards Vickers at New Hampshire a few weeks ago, when he raced the No. 24 car hard for position late in the race, and Jimmie Johnson's public outcry against him this Sunday, it's clear they view Vickers as fourth man on the totem pole in their own personal pecking order. With the public announcement this week that the youngster is now getting shut out of team meetings within the own organization he works for, it's amazing Vickers has still been able to remain even casual friends with some of these guys off the track - because they're clearly not doing him any favors on it.

Still, despite every reason to turn his back on an organization that had turned his back on him, in the last lap of a race in which he clearly had a chance to win, Vickers simply stayed in line and tried to help his teammate win the race. Unfortunately, he made a simple mistake, a bump in the wrong place that sent Johnson and Earnhardt, Jr. into the grass and Vickers towards a win he'd lost through bad luck several other times in his three-year career. In the end, it was a desire to help a team member, the very thing Hendrick team members had criticized Vickers for, that caused the crash which won Vickers the race.

Afterwards, Johnson was livid. But it's Vickers who should be livid with how the Hendrick organization has treated him after four loyal years of service.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Did You Notice? … Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
Beyond the Cockpit: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. on Growing Up Racing and Owner Loyalties
The Frontstretch Five: Flaws Exposed In the New Chase So Far
NASCAR Writer Power Rankings: Top 15 After Darlington
NASCAR Mailbox: Past Winners Aren’t Winning …. Yet
Open Wheel Wednesday: How Can IndyCar Stand Out?


©2000 - 2008 Thomas Bowles and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

10/09/2006 12:09 PM

Finally somebody talks some sense. As much as anybody else, I didn’t want that wreck to happen at the end of the race yesterday. I don’t think Brian Vickers wanted that wreck. But, just as Jimmie Johnson’s sponsors expect him to try and gain the best finish possible, so do the sponsors of the #25 car. I really think that Brian first had intentions on helping Jimmie because that in turn would help his position. We will never know what would have come after that because Jimmie’s car hit a pocket of air while Brian was moving forward fast and they touched. The rest is history.

Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon need to take a lesson on how teammates are there to help each other. It seems time and time again that the other Hendrick cars are there to support them. I lost a lot of respect for those two after the past few weeks.

10/09/2006 02:43 PM

I totally agree. I’ve read more articles than I care to stating that Vickers took out Johnson on purpose. Watching it unfold it didn’t come across at all like seemed that Johnson started to make a move at the wrong time. I agree with your points that Vickers has been seen from his “teammates” as more of someone that should do everything in his power for the other teams to succeed. Its getting a bit tiring hearing from the guys in the Chase like the rest of the drivers should bow down to them or something…Interesting too that Johnson can’t seem to recall hanging Vickers out there to it Karma Jimmie…

10/10/2006 04:21 AM

I agree with this article. Hendrick may be the only place in Nascar where there is an “I” in “team”, in fact it might by the ONLY thing in “team” there! Jeff Gordon has been proving more and more each week that it’s all about him, as far as he’s concerned. He has been whining all year about someone else being the cause of his misfortunes. A week or so ago, he was complaining that Vickers was “not his teammate”. Earlier in the year, he was blaming Ken Schrader, one of the true “good guys” in Nascar for being in his way (when he clearly wasn’t). Sunday, he was complaining about Jr. Almost each week it’s seemed as if he is blaming someone else when he didn’t finish a race where he wanted to.

Jimmy Johnson complained Sunday that Vickers move was “out of line”, a comment that was clearly a case of the pot calling the kettle “black”. Vickers didn’t do anything differently than Johnson himself has done during many races. In fact, Johnson has caused a lot more accidents at super speedways than Vickers ever has! If JJ had any brains, he would have realized that the second place finish he already had in the bag Sunday would have helped him enormously in the “Chase” and losing it was not worth the risk of trying to win with a hazardous move on the closing lap. He seems to have the same attitude as Jeff Gordon, ie. that a win should be his at all costs.

JJ and Jeff Gordon have been showing their true colors in recent weeks and it ain’t pretty. They are showing more and more that they are two of the most selfish drivers in Nascar and I too have lost much respect for them.

10/10/2006 05:04 AM

as soon as that wreck happen i was pissed at jj for what he did. then the replays came and i said wow sorry jj its wasnt his fault. it was vickers. when you look at it vickers wanted to go low then he thought about it for split second. wrong thing to do. then as soon as he said wait jj hung me out 6 months ago and drivers never forget something like that. as he started to go back up he got cought in the draft off of the two cars plus jj slowing down cause from 1. junior came down on him, 2. and he got out of the gas to slow down and in that split second vickers was already starting to go back up and said the hell with this im going for the win and bam all hell broke loss. i dont blame bv at all. its racing. wait but i do blame hedricks. it will always be gordon-jj-the new kid who i dont think fits in anyways and then it will be mears. as long as mears nows his role as the clean up boy he keeps his mouth shut he will be ok there. well maybee knaus is right too much power for vickers. i dont think knaus understand there is no i in team. how would he hell gordon owns have that team anyways.

10/10/2006 05:51 AM

great article—-the 24 or 48 would have done the same to the 25!!! And it is always ok—-IF THEY WIN! 24 and 48 Do not whine!!!

10/10/2006 06:22 AM

Junior trusts drivers to drive clean. Johnson is selfish and so is Vickers, Hendricks thinks they aare the power house Cinderella team. Maybe if they started racing like there are other drivers on the track instead of just them bad things would not always happen. And they won’t have to whine (Jeff & Jimmie) all the time. Junior is the one that lost this one, he had no help. but help like jj got is no help at all

10/10/2006 06:27 AM

I have never been a Jimmy Johnson fan, and his attitude and comments after the race really turn me off. Jimmy is all about Jimmy. I could have understood negitive comments from Dale Jr, but he is a class act. Way to go jr!

Terry Mcdonald
10/10/2006 07:20 AM

I have nothing to add, Thomas Bowles said it all. Think I’ll kick back with a Bud.

10/10/2006 07:47 AM

jimmy johnson must have forgotten talladega last year, when his early aggressive driving took out half the field and cost numerous chasers a chance at the championship. jimmy has had a silver spoon in his mouth since day one and his actions and comments validate my point.

10/10/2006 07:58 AM

You said it all. I am not a Brian Vickers fan, but I have noticed that he has been the ‘good soldier’ for years, and that he’s gotten screwed on numerous occasions. I don’t think it was intentional, but if it has been, I would have cheered for him more.

10/10/2006 08:30 AM

Loud applause for your article. Vickers has been the stepchild at Hendricks for far to long. Good for him and his victory, Jimmie and Jeff think it’s all about them. They are the ones that WERE NOT good team mates to Brian. I hate it for Jr. But he showed major class in his post race interview.

What comes around goes around Jimmie and Jeff, be sure at the next plate race, NO ONE will be drafting with you guys.

10/10/2006 08:40 AM

I never was a particular fan of Vickers, but I am now. He did his job in spite of the treatment he was receiving. He made a little mistake and the rest of the team ( and a lot of fans) are treating him like dirt. Enjoy your victory Brian. You deserve it.

10/10/2006 08:58 AM

JJ always has been and always will be a whiner. It was CLEAR Vickers didn’t hit him on purpose. When drafting, you GO when you want to pass someone. JJ checked up while Vickers thought he was going forward with a full head of steam. I think any and all of the criticism Vickers is getting from the press and his spoiled, whiney teammates (in fact, Gordon, Johnson and especially Busch are all whiners) is completely uncalled for.

It’s nice to see more articles and blogs coming out on the RIGHT side of this argument today. If I was Vickers, I’d ask for an immediate release so I didn’t have to put up with these so-called teammates. Backstabbers is more like it.

Mike Alexander
10/10/2006 09:38 AM

Good article and right on the money. Gordon is the biggest taker on the circuit, and thinks everything revolves around him. Johnson followed in his footsteps. Gordon was a young man who was in the right place at the right time and took advantage. Good for him. But!!!!!!! there are other drivers that could have done the same thing, given the same circumstances. Since the invasion of youth Gordon has fallen into the mix, he isn’t special anymore. So given that Johnson has learned that Gordon take all and give nothing logic, he reaped what he sowed. Karma I say. Good luck to Vickers and I hope he blows their doors off.

10/10/2006 09:51 AM

Good read!! Interesting that JR and Kurt Busch sided with Vickers in the deal. Now it’s becoming clearer to me why I don’t like JJ….

10/10/2006 10:43 AM

for some of the morons that responded to this it’s spelled JIMMIE not JIMMY, seriously some of you make yourself look foolish when trying to bad mouth a driver.

10/10/2006 11:19 AM

Good article. It does amaze me that Jimmie Johnson has a pretty short memory – i still remember the in car camera from the spring Talladega race when he won – he was twitching around in the car like a spoiled little kid. Had the accident not happened, he would have no doubt expected Vickers to stay in line and not try to pass. And Vickers himself has said that the only reason why JJ even had a shot was becuase Vickers was drafting with him. The #25 has been treated as an R&D car by Hendrick to help the 24 and the 48. Between being banned from team meetings, and being thrown under the bus by Jeff Gordon after Loudoun, I doubt Brian Vickers lost too much sleep after winning that race. He didn’t wreck Johnson intentionally. If anything, Johnson should have let Vickers pull out first and then drop down right afterward – Vickers would have hit the air first, leaving enough room for JJ to drop down and then hook up and head to the front. Hopefully Casey Mears will be treated a little better by the Hendrick organization.

10/10/2006 12:46 PM

Even as a fan of the 24, I agree his whining has gotten tiresome this year…maybe it’s becoming time for him to hang up his helmet and and just put on his ownership cap…I hate to say it (believe me, anything not nailed down started flying when he got shuffled back Sunday then was caught up in the Big One), but perhaps this truly is a young man’s game and the drivers like Scrader, Jarrett, et al, are the ones who can hang on. JG, JJ, and KB are driving the legions of HMS fans away from them and need to get their act together…this is becoming ridiculous…

10/10/2006 01:34 PM

excuse me, jimmie not jimmy. i should have known that he would spell his name like a girl.

John Blackburn
10/10/2006 02:04 PM

I agree 100% with your article. While not a Vickers fan, I say congrats Brian on your first victory. He was merely trying to help out his teammate and he gets bashed for it. I think the one question the folks at Hendricks Motorsports should be asked is what would their response have been if Vickers stayed in line with the 8 and left the 48 hung out to dry? I am curious as to why that hasn’t been asked yet. Seems like if he wasn’t a good teammate, that’s what he would have done. He would have finished second either way. He just wanted a Hendricks 1..2…Finish.

10/10/2006 03:25 PM

Thank GOD for this article. It’s about time that I find articles such as this one that actually saw what happened on Saturday for what it was.

A racing incident. Brian was trying to help Jimmie win. He wasn’t helping himself win. He wanted a 1-2 finish for HMS. Brian made a mistake, yes. He wasn’t blaming anyone. He was simply stating what happened. Brian barely got into him, and that’s all it took. For the individuals who believe it was intentional, they need to get out of the sport.

As a long time BV fan, at this point, I just want the season to end. I’m sick of seeing Brian treated as the red-headed step child at HMS.

10/10/2006 03:41 PM

I have instantly turned into a Brian Vickers fan after seeing another glaring example of how you get treated if your not one of Hendricks cronies, way to go Brian, you did NOTHING wrong and next year you’ll be in a car and with a team that actually cares about you.

10/10/2006 05:03 PM

Teamwork atHMS has always been put in a closet. Geoff Bodine and Ken Schrader put themselves out a few times until Rick Hendrick had a sit down with them.
Fast foward to when King Whine, Jeff Gordon was still a prince. Talladega was the place and Jeff put his teammate Schrader almost out of the track with a bone head move. The first person to talk to him after the race was Kenny. A class move.
After this race did Jimmie talk to Brian? No, he and the leader of his team Chad Knutt, showed how to throw a teammate under the bus by making snotty comments.
Leader Jeff Gordon should have thought back to his experience and shown his driver what class should be and been the first to victory lane.
HMS may have had some problems before but has gone straight to hell after JG and JJ came onboard.

10/10/2006 05:52 PM

I have to agree with most everybody here. It was a breath of fresh air to see this article after seeing all those others bashing Brian. Yeah, he made a mistake. But, he was trying to help a teammate to give HMS a 1-2 finish Sunday. I have seen race after race where Brian was helping out his teammates, but unfortunately, his teammates helping him has been a rare occurence. After the smoke cleared and Jimmie started his all too familiar whine, I immediately thought back to Talladega in May. I was beginning to think I was the only one. Glad to know I wasn’t. Jimmie Johnson is nothing but a spoiled selfish little boy. He absolutely deserved what he got on Sunday and he deserves to get his more often so he can realize this is Nascar and not the Jimmie Johnson show. All my congrats go to Brian and the #25 team and good luck to Brian next year with Team Red Bull. He deserves a chance to actually be able to race like a Cup driver for wins and championships and not feel like a second class citizen next to his teammates.

10/10/2006 06:03 PM

What has racing become today? What a bunch of whiners.. You are leaving our team so you attend any more meetings. Just like a bunch of little kids, you don’t play my game so I taking my ball and going home. As far as the race, how many times have we seen this before? Do you think Big E would have done the same as Brian Vickers?? Of course he would have!! Just ask Terry Labonte at the Winston. The reason that NASCAR is having issues with filling seats in both the stands and in front of the TV is that what you have now is a bunch of mealy mouth brats. Corporate big wigs love the mellow drivers, unfortunately it is killing what I loved about racing. Drivers with personality and talent.

10/10/2006 07:33 PM

Excellent article, and I enjoyed the reader feedback as well. Reader Mr. Blackburn is correct: what would the Hendricks organization be saying if Brian Vickers had stayed in line with Jr. and pushed HIM to the win? I am not a Vickers fan, but I recognize that he was put into a bad position and he deserves credit for trying to (belatedly) move with JJ to get the team win. Especially admirable in light of the really rotten treatment he has gotten at the hands of his so-called “teammates”.

Thanks for a reasonable, well-written article.

10/10/2006 07:42 PM

Loved the article, but couldn’t help but notice no one pointed out the recent trend of a Talladega race. Jimmie Johnson will wreck half the field then try to go on for the win, sound strategy when you don’t have enough talent to do it yourself vs the whole field. He clobbered Carl Edwards to start that mess to hurt Jeff Gordon’s chances, maybe if he would be a team player wait until Gordon and Kyle Busch (Note not who’s driving the #25) are ahead of him then slam on the brakes. I’m glad to see the #25 back in victory lane, it’s the red headed step child of the organization ever since Tim Richmond left, and I’m even a fan of Ken Schrader saying that. I say good luck to Casey Mears next year driving the equipment not wanted by Gordon, Johnson, Busch or Rick Hendrick’s dog who is probably higher on the pecking order than the driver of the #25 car.

Ted Main
10/10/2006 07:49 PM

Great responses,,,its good to see that there are some people out there that were watching the same race I was tuned into,,,Cheers to BV,,,and I hope he has the nerve to race his own race and not help his so called team mates in future races,,,TWC

10/10/2006 08:09 PM

If I were Vickers, I would wreck Johnson. Then after the race I would go to him and say now you can tell the difference….today I took you out on purpose, last week I didn’t.

Of course Vickers has way too much class to do that. I’m also very disappointed in Rick Hendricks taking his sweet time getting to victory lane. I didn’t notice Gordon railing against Johnson, who was the cause of the lap 139 wreck that did him in!

Red Bull racing just earned a fan!

10/10/2006 08:20 PM

The way I saw the thing is that Vickers had been running with the leaders all day and had one of the two fastest cars-Jr being the other. Johnson had run anywhere from 10th-20th and was able to stay up front because Vickers was pushing him. If Johnson had let Vickers lead, both could have passed Jr.. But Johnson was too selfish and self-centered to do the smart thing. So, when Johnson dropped down to try to pass he lost the push from Vickers and the draft from Jr.. His slower car lost momentum and Vickers tagged him as a result. The amazing thing was that Vickers tried to push Johnson to the win even after Talladega.

10/10/2006 08:29 PM

The difference between the spring race and the fall at Talladega is that Jimmie didn’t wreck Brian when he tried to pass him. Vickers is a Busch driver at best, you could put just about anyone in a hendrick car and they would win. It’ll be funny next year watching Vickers struggle to make the race in his Toyota

10/10/2006 08:31 PM

Being a diehard Earnhardt fan (Sr and Jr) I was mad as all hell when the wreck occured. Instantly wanting to blame someone for the wreck I pointed my middle finger at both of the Hendrick car. Jimmie for causing a wreck that seems to be his claime to fame at Dega and at Brian for not noticing Jimmies car darn near losing control as it is when he pulled out from behind Jr.and still trying to complete a pass. The “TEAM” efforts at HMS seem to really be slipping. Even Jeff and Jimmie really don’t work with each other. Not being much of a Hendrick fan I too am getting tired of Jeff and Jimmie and the other Bush whining. Seems to be a family trait. Always wanted to see Brian get his first win. Just didn’t think that it would take out Jr. Brian does however deserve better than he has recieved the last few years at HMS. Just to bad Rick never noticed it. I do however, think that Brian’s intensions were to get the win for himself. I believe if he would have went with Jimmie he would have remembered the spring race and tried to make it a three car sprint to the end. In which case I believe Jr. would have won. Jr. fan or not every one has to agree he had a pretty damn good car and arguably one of, if not, the fastest cars on the track that day. Not bad for a car that qualified 33rd. I enjoy reading these forums. Good to see everyones oppinions, even if I don’t agree with them. Here is to the past. May the best car actually win next time.

10/10/2006 08:55 PM

I LOVE the way all of the elitist Hendrick Motorsports buttheads responded to what was admittedly a REALLY bad move on behalf of Vickers. For example, take Chad Knaus and his “He simply ran out of talent” remark. Chad, if Jimmie is as talented as you want us to believe, then why do you REPEATEDLY cheat as his crew chief to try and come up with a winning car every weekend? Just let your TALENTED driver use his awesome abilities to drive away from the pack (what a hypocritical dork). Also, what’s up with Jimmie’s “He’s going to really feel isolated in the garage area now” remark? Jimmie, I hope you don’t expect to be welcomed with open arms the next time you run over someone on the way to victory lane—which happens, oh, several times a year. Other than your Hendrick Motorsports cronies, you isolated yourself from the competition a LOONNGG time ago, son. Vickers’ one-time act of overaggressiveness is not nearly as bad as the behavior that Knaus, Johnson and especially Whiner Gordon have consistently shown over the past few years. Hey Brian, since you’re being treated as a rival now instead of a teammate, feel free to apply the chrome bumper as often as you’d like.

10/10/2006 09:01 PM

I meant chrome horn, not bumper. Although his bumper worked pretty darn well too :)

10/11/2006 04:02 AM

Hey, they are giving out free beer in SECTION “8” on the frontstretch. The WHINE is all sold out.

10/11/2006 07:20 AM

You can’t compare the Spring and Fall races when Jimmie was wrecked and Brian wasn’t. Jimmie was clear in all interviews that he was sure the bump wasn’t intentional. Doesn’t JJ have a right to be upset. Chad was right Brian ran out of talent! After all both wins Brain has gotten in Cup has come by taking someone out. Give me a break! On to the next race!

10/11/2006 07:59 AM

I read all you had to say about talladega ,what you allforgot was If Junior didn’t block JJ none of this would have happened and no one would be blamed.It would have been a whale of a drag race to the finish line and no one could say or blame anyone .If you block you’re gonna get socked [MAYBE}

10/11/2006 08:07 AM

Here’s a second thought .The race was ruined when the accident that claimed Tony Stewart ,Jeff GOrdon ,Kevin Harvick and the :BIFF”.The race was caution free until some dumb move was made by GUESS WHO Carl Edwards ,It seems every one was focusts on that last lap ,but the real race and could have been a DOOZIE if those were in it to.

John Blackburn
10/11/2006 10:37 AM

Hankus…Give me your address so I can send you a clip of that accident. Jimmie Johnson actually turned Carl Edwards sideways. That was what started the wrecking. It all started up front with a check up, but Johnson turned Edwards to start the big one. Next time you want to make a stupid comment, get the facts correct so you don’t look so ignorant.

10/11/2006 07:39 PM

I have been a Vickers fan for years and it is so great to see this article after the way he has been treated lately. It’s also great to see how many supporters Brian has now. He has gotten the shaft for far too long and his “teammates” have taken advantage far to much. I’m glad to see him get his first win and move on to Team Red Bull where they are building a team around him not some big-shot whiner!

T. Bowles
10/12/2006 09:59 AM

Now that the commenting has died down a bit, I wanted to pop in and thank everyone for taking the time to write. It’s clear that this incident has stirred up a lot of controversy, and I don’t expect it to die down anytime soon! As always, I enjoyed reading what everyone has to say.

Johnson and Vickers were friends before this incident…I think people fail to realize sometimes how close that group of Hendrick drivers can be. It’ll be interesting to see if the friendship can continue in the midst of all this madness…one thing is clear, though. When Vickers moves to Team Red Bull in 2007, he now has even more to prove than he did before…despite his first win.


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Recent articles from Tom Bowles:

Did You Notice? ... Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
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