Following his elimination in a big crash at the end of Sunday’s Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona, Paul Menard’s comments seemed to sum up the most common criticism of Jimmie Johnson’s NASCAR career:
“Jimmie does that a lot.”
It’s safe to say Menard’s frustration is warranted, as contact with Johnson is what sent his dominant No. 21 Mustang around in a cloud of smoke and twisted metal. It is also a valid point that Johnson’s aggressiveness has caused more than a few crashes at Daytona and Talladega. It is also a given that following these comments, the NASCAR community took to social media to voice their criticism of Johnson’s actions (as was expected).
But despite all of that, Johnson’s aggressiveness on Sunday doesn’t warrant the criticism he’s been receiving. If anything, it warrants understanding, especially when it’s considered that he spent all of 2018 out of the Winner’s Circle. It also warrants understanding that he drove the way he did in order to validate his new pairing with crew chief Kevin Meendering, especially when his long-time crew chief, the one he earned the majority of his successes with, was shifted over to the under-performing No. 24 team.
Menard has every right to be mad. He was not only leading but dominating at Daytona, and even though it was a non-points event Menard is not someone who has visited Victory Lane very often (Three XFINITY Series wins and one MENCS win). It would have been a great morale booster for a team that along with recovering from a personal tragedy, has not set the circuit on fire. Also worth noting is that a win during Daytona Speedweeks is a great confidence booster leading into the Daytona 500.
Instead, all it took was the No. 48 and the No. 21 getting sucked together during an aggressive move for all hell to break loose. But that’s okay. It’s a racing accident. Johnson isn’t a nefarious Dick Dastardly character, stroking his gray-streaked facial hair and uttering his evil cackle while plotting his next carnage-inducing move on the NASCAR garage. He’s a race car driver who tries to win races, and Sunday’s Clash was a chance to prove that he’s still got what it takes. Lo and behold, he does.
What would have been the point of the single-file racing we had been seeing up to the critical moment? Time after time at Talladega and Daytona, the fans as well as the garage are robbed because nobody ever makes a move at those tracks. The cars go lap after lap in a constant freight train, afraid to make a move or pass one another, content with riding around and earning a spot that doesn’t land them a win. This is an attitude that for some dumb reason has made it’s way into the non-points paying Clash, a race that’s supposed to be for fun and for the fans.
Johnson’s move, while aggressive, was a necessary evil. From a racer’s standpoint, it is what needed to be done. He didn’t set out to wreck Menard. He set out to do what he was paid to do – win races. Could it have been done without contact? Yes. But at this point in time, the contact is secondary. The wreck could have easily been caused by a number of other drivers, so to blame Johnson for his aggressiveness is moot.
Instead, call it for what it really was: Racing.