Results of fifth and sixth to start the season isn’t bad at all, but six-time and defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson admitted that he was looking for more from today’s The Profit on CNBC 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.
Johnson was near the front throughout the 312-lap event but couldn’t really keep up on pure speed with the leaders. After the race, he told Fox Sports that he’d been expecting a quicker pace from his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet off the hauler.
“I was in position to be third or fourth a couple of different times late in the race,” he said. “Just racing incidents happened where I lost a couple of spots and have to work my way back through the field, but all in all – OK.
“We thought we would be a little stronger unloading this weekend…It looks like we spent a lot of time focusing on closing out ’13 strong, which was what we needed to do, and maybe a couple of guys got a head start on this 2014 [rules] package.”
However, Johnson was far from being in crisis after today’s event, and said he was looking forward to Thursday’s test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway – site of next Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 – as a chance for the 48 team to unlock more speed with the aforementioned new rules package in place.
“We just need a little bit more time with this new package to dial-in our race car,” he said. “…We were very focused at the end of 2013 to close-out ’13 strong. We didn’t participate in the test sessions that took place at Charlotte Motor Speedway on the 2014 package.
“We knew it would hurt us a little bit at the start of the year and there’s a little bit of that there. But, from where we unloaded to where we raced [today] was a huge, huge difference. We even qualified real nice. So, we’re definitely on the trail. We just need a little bit more time with the car.”
Media and fan attention focused on a controversial run-in between Haiden Deegan and his Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing teammate Jordon Smith during Round 10 of the Monster Energy Supercross race at Detroit, after which the 250 East points’ Hunter Lawrence defends the young rider in the postrace news conference.
Deegan took the early lead in Heat 1 of the round, but the mood swiftly changed when he became embroiled in a spirited battle with teammate Smith.
On Lap 3, Smith caught Deegan with a fast pass through the whoops. Smith briefly held the lead heading into a bowl turn but Deegan had the inside line and threw a block pass. In the next few turns, the action heated up until Smith eventually ran into the back of Deegan’s Yamaha and crashed.
One of the highlights of the battle seemed to include a moment when Deegan waited on Smith in order to throw a second block pass, adding fuel to the controversy.
After his initial crash, Smith fell to seventh on the next lap. He would crash twice more during the event, ultimately finishing four laps off the pace in 20th.
The topic was inevitably part of the postrace news conference.
Smith had more trouble in the Last Chance Qualifier. He stalled his bike in heavy traffic, worked his way into a battle for fourth with the checkers in sight, but crashed a few yards shy of the finish line and was credited with seventh. Smith earned zero points and fell to sixth in the standings.
“I think he’s like fifth in points,” Deegan said. “He’s a little out of it. Beside that it was good, I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention.”
Deegan jokingly deflected an earlier question with the response that he wasn’t paying attention during the incident.
“He’s my teammate, but he’s a veteran, he’s been in this sport for a while,” Deegan said. “I was up there just battling. I want to win as much as everybody else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a heat race or a main; I just want to win. I was just trying to push that.”
But as Deegan struggled to find something meaningful to say, unsurprisingly for a 17-year-old rider who was not scheduled to run the full 250 schedule this year, it was the championship leader Lawrence who came to his defense.
“I just want to point something out, which kind of amazes me,” Lawrence said during the conference. “So many of the people on social media, where everyone puts their expertise in, are saying the racing back in the ’80s, the early 90s, when me were men. They’re always talking about how gnarly it was and then anytime a block pass or something happens now, everyone cries about it.
“That’s just a little bit interesting. Pick one. You want the gnarly block passes from 10 years ago and then you get it, everyone makes a big song and dance about it.”
Pressed further, Lawrence defended not only the pass but the decision-making process that gets employed lap after lap in a Supercross race.
“It’s easy to point the finger,” Lawrence said. “We’re out there making decisions in a split millisecond. People have all month to pay their phone bill and they still can’t do that on time.
“We’re making decisions at such a fast reaction [time with] adrenaline. … I’m not just saying it for me or Haiden. I speak for all the guys. No one is perfect and we’re under a microscope out there. The media is really quick to point a finger when someone makes a mistake.”
The media is required to hold athletes accountable for their actions. They are also required to tell the complete story.