TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) — Four-time defending NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson took the blame for making a mistake that ultimately led to teammate Jeff Gordon's wreck at Talladega Superspeedway.
Johnson said he was trying to slide in front of Gordon late in Sunday's race so the two Hendrick Motorsports drivers could draft together toward the front. But, he said Gordon was coming too fast. Johnson's move instead had the effect of a block, and Gordon was forced off the apron in a defensive move.
His momentum gone, Gordon slide back in traffic and was caught moments later in a multi-car crash.
"I misjudged the closing rate," Johnson told The Associated Press. "We all make mistakes, I am no different.
"Certainly, that was my fault. I made the mistake there."
Gordon, who drove his damaged car to a 22nd-place finish, was furious with his teammate after the race.
"The 48 is testing my patience, I can tell you that," Gordon said Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. "It takes a lot to make me mad."
Johnson was involved in his own accident later and finished 31st. Johnson had already left the track when Gordon, also a four-time series champion, talked of his frustration with his teammate.
"I would have stuck around if I knew what was waiting for me," Johnson said in a phone interview with the AP.
But Johnson again dismissed any notion of a rift with the driver who helped him get his break with Hendrick Motorsports. The two tangled a week ago at Texas Motor Speedway, but downplayed any potential tensions.
"There's no doubt after the fact that frustrations are high, the wreck just compounded it," Johnson said. "I think he was speaking out of frustration."
Johnson approached Gordon in 2001 asking for advice, and Gordon convinced Rick Hendrick to start a team for Johnson.
Since his 2002 rookie season, Johnson steadily challenged Gordon until finally surpassing him as the star of the team. Johnson has won 50 races and the last four championships, while Gordon has won 24 races but no titles.
Asked if Gordon might be frustrated about getting beat by Johnson, the champion took a long pause before answering.
"There's no more then if it was someone else winning and running up front. I just don't think so," he said. "Yes, he's competitive, and yes we've raced hard over the years. But he's going to have that bulls-eye on whoever it is winning. Let's just say it was (Greg Biffle) winning all the time. He'd be frustrated with him.
"But I think Jeff is just frustrated that it was Texas to Talladega. He was in a wreck, and nobody is ever happy about that."