Tom Bowles
Thursday April 29th, 2010

If you're looking for some Jeff Gordon-Jimmie Johnson drama this weekend, don't expect to find it.

Making an appearance in Philadelphia Thursday promoting the Cup races at Dover Downs, Johnson revealed the two drivers spoke with car owner Rick Hendrick this week, working out their differences after a second straight on-track incident played out in the press.

"We were all in conversation on the phone together," Johnson said, shrugging off the drama. "Everything's in good shape, there's no issues. We're teammates, we're friends -- any good relationship, you have conflict."

According to Johnson, Hendrick stepped up to break the ice after the latest incident between the two heightened tensions. At Talladega Sunday, Johnson blocked Gordon as the No. 24 got a run on him down the backstretch. That forced Gordon to slow down, putting him back in traffic while leaving him the victim of a wreck that unfolded just half a lap later. After exiting the car, he publicly claimed Johnson was, "Testing his patience," words not lost on a car owner who was beginning to lose his tolerance over all of it.

"He said guys, you need to voice your opinions and handle things on the track as you see fit, but let's not let this carry on too far," Johnson revealed. "Rick was concerned from the standpoint that, 'OK, if you guys are competitive, you're doing your thing, you guys need to sort it out and I'm not going to interfere with that.' But we don't need this breaking apart the organization."

"We don't need guys at the No. 24/48 shop to start taking sides."

The reigning four-time champ kept the other details of the conversation private. But he blamed frustration over a season of missed opportunities in getting Gordon publicly riled up.

"Jeff's had such a good year going," he claimed. "Two victories have slipped through his fingers, so I think it's ... I was the straw that broke the camel's back. And when the microphone was there, it was easy just to go [off]."

"Other times that we've had issues, we've been able to talk about it. This one kind of got out ... it was lived out a little more in the press than we've had in the past."

Compounding the issue were busy schedules that kept the two from sitting down and having a one-on-one in person about the matter. Even this week, timing and travel left a phone call the only option.

"It was like, 'Here's our weekly call!'," Johnson joked before turning serious. "I would much rather have those conversations in person, but after Texas I was in Indy, testing, so that complicated it. And then, this week, I don't even know where he was."

"I think, face-to-face, talking about issues even though it's a little more difficult at the time, you get a sense of somebody's emotions and where they're at and what's going on."

Still, Johnson at least appears ready to move forward with the incident, one he thinks could actually make the Hendrick organization stronger in the long run.

"Tension, at times, it makes you dig in deeper and fight harder," he explained. "We're competing for championships, so there's going to be a rivalry. And the more competitive we are as a team, not just singling out Jeff but with Mark and with Junior, the better we're going to make our organization. We've got four awesome drivers, so if we can just keep it inside our organization and fight the hell out of each other, we're going to make ourselves stronger and better."

That captured Johnson's perspective in a nutshell: looking for the silver lining in an incident that put both drivers in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. But hey, at least he has a sense of humor about it; when a fan asked who his favorite driver was, Johnson immediately quipped: "Jeff Gordon."

"My parents have always had me believe in the theory things come in 3s," he joked. "So, I'm not excited for this weekend. Let's just get through this one [before we call it a dead issue]."

Among the other major topics Johnson touched on Thursday:

Restrictor plates. "I really feel for NASCAR. After we had our test session a couple months ago, I called Helton up, and I said, 'Man, you're screwed. You can't make everybody happy. It's impossible.' If you make it where the fans enjoy it, you're going to have more wrecks, and more upset. But if you mellow that out, then the racing isn't exciting. So, I don't think we ever get around it. I think we can tweak the packages and keep everyone at ease emotionally, we're working on it, but at the end of the day, as long as there is a plate on those cars, the racing is going to be a certain way. There's just no way around it."

Multiple green-white-checkered finishes. "I think there's a balance there, where we need to make sure the people that are buying tickets and the people sitting at home watching on television are entertained. It might not be what you want all the time, but there can be some opportunity in it that you can take advantage of, and you just go with it because you know it's better for ratings and viewership and all that kind of stuff."

A name for his baby girl due in July. "Don't have one yet. We're panicking right now!"

On balancing taking risks in the regular season with testing versus doing enough to make the Chase. I think we're experienced enough as a team to not let some of the emotional things creep in and affect the decisions we make as a team. I know in the past, it would be real easy to be caught up in points and try and worry about defending right now, and worry about some type of statement that might send. But as time goes on, we worry so much less about things and really focus so much more on ourselves and doing the job we know how to do. And I guess that confidence comes from the success and performing.

We're very comfortable with where we are right now. As you pointed out, if we have some bad races you can fall quick. So we like where we're at, and hopefully we can keep rolling.

On his biggest championship threats. It's not too early [to think about them]. I think the best example of it of not being too early to look at things like that is where the 17 car is versus last year. I think Matt's going to be a player this year.

And Denny Hamlin and that No. 11 team, they have everything there to win championships and win races. They're very smart people. There's a good bond between driver and crew chief. Pit stops are great, equipment is great. I definitely feel like he's a huge threat.

On Denny overcoming his ACL injury. I was impressed. It's weird how injured athletes, recovering athletes do that: it brings you into that sweet spot at times. I know him personally and I said, 'Man, don't push it.', but what he did at Martinsville, being injured before the surgery and then the fact he stayed in at Phoenix was impressive. I know he earned a lot of points with his boys.

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