Johnson, Gordon Bring Dispute To Richmond

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Jimmie Johnson (48) and Jeff Gordon have been at odds the last few weeks. (HHP/Alan Marler Photo)

Jimmie Johnson (48) and Jeff Gordon have been at odds the last few weeks. (HHP/Alan Marler Photo)

RICHMOND, Va. — With all the talk surrounding Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson’s most recent scuff up, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will return to short-track racing this weekend with a visit to Richmond Int’l Raceway.

Gordon and Johnson have been at odds since they bounced off of each other at Texas Motor Speedway while racing for the lead two weeks ago. The pair exchanged verbal jabs after the race, but by the time they got to Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway they said they’d moved past the incident.

That is, until Johnson blocked Gordon late in Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 going down the backstretch, a move that put Gordon right in the middle of a crash that eliminated any chances he had of winning.

“The 48 was testing my patience, I can tell you that,” Gordon said of Johnson after the Talladega incident. “I’ll tell you what — I’m pissed right now. I don’t know what it is going on between me and him right now.”

Johnson later took responsibility for the crash at Talladega, saying he made an error in judgment. While that may be true, racing at Richmond tends to lend itself to payback, something Gordon may be seeking come Saturday evening.

Both drivers have tasted success at the Virginia oval. Gordon has two victories at the track in 34 starts, while Johnson has three victories in 16 starts.

The biggest threat for both Gordon and Johnson is likely to be Denny Hamlin, who has two victories in the last four races. In eight starts at RIR, Hamlin has led 899 laps, which leaves him tied with Jeff Burton for second among active drivers (only Gordon has led more laps at RIR).

“It’s just a track that we’ve always run extremely competitive at,” said Hamlin of Richmond. “What I’m hoping is that we go back there and we’re as competitive as what we always are.

“I always like to perform as good as we can. The only thing is we are going back to a heavy braking race track again in Richmond. So, hopefully we make a little bit more strides with the (knee surgery) recovery,” Hamlin added.

Hamlin’s teammate Kyle Busch is the defending winner of the spring event at RIR.

“I like going to Richmond. It’s a fun race track,” said Busch. “It’s a nice short track that we get to go and run at. For me, the success I’ve had there, I’m not sure why but it’s just been a good place for me to run. I’m excited about getting back there and hopefully to get another run in the top five and try to go after a win.”

THE STATS

Race: Crown Royal Presents the Heath Calhoun 400
Track: Richmond Int’l Raceway, a three-quarter-mile asphalt oval located in Richmond, Va.
Laps/Distance: 400 laps/300 miles
Defending Race Winner: Kyle Busch (No. 18 Combos Toyota)
Defending Pole Winner: Brian Vickers (No. 83 Red Bull Toyota)
Track Race Record: Dale Jarrett, 109.047 miles per hour (September 1997)
Track Qualifying Record: Brian Vickers, 129.983 miles per hour (May 2004)
Most Victories: Richard Petty (13)
Most Top Fives: Richard Petty (34)
Most Top 10s: Richard Petty (41)
Most Poles: Richard Petty and Bobby Allison (eight)
Most Wins By Manufacturer: Chevrolet (34)