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Will Gordon-Johnson rift blow over?

- Special Correspondent
Wednesday, Apr. 28, 2010

Jeff Gordon was “disappointed” in Jimmie Johnson after they banged doors at Texas Motor Speedway last week. His mood soured beyond angry on Sunday at Talladega when Johnson misjudged Gordon’s closing speed late in the race and blocked his teammate into a gathering wreck instead of settling in for a draft push.

At the end of a weekend in which the friends, teammates and business partners addressed repeated questions about their working relationship, Johnson accepted full blame. But with a level of agitation already attained after just nine races and inevitable conflict ahead as Johnson attempts to win a fourth-straight championship and Gordon attempts to re-assert his will in a sport and on a team he once ruled, the issue figures to remain prominent.

Gordon admitted last year that their personal relationship had suffered because of their intense competition, but that connection, including Gordon helping launch Johnson’s career and serving as the car owner of the No. 48 Chevrolet, might keep civil a teammate relationship that can often erode.

Gordon and Johnson are simply the latest in a long history of teammates who became rivals.

“All of our lives, who have we argued with the most and the worst? It’s our brothers and sisters,” said Carl Edwards, who had squabbled with Roush fenway teammate Matt Kenseth in 2007. “I’d say Greg (Biffle) and Matt and I have had the hardest races and most fierce, intense competition of anybody that I’ve raced with and I think that’s just normal. It doesn’t mean you don’t like each other or you don’t work together, but you always want to out-do the guy closest to you.”

That’s because it’s down to the man at the wheel at that point.

“To get beat by a guy and you don’t know what he’s got in his car, you can always in your mind say, ‘Yeah, he’s got a better engine or something.’,” Edwards said. “But if you get beat by a guy that’s got the same stuff as you, it’s like, ‘Man, I’ve got to get on my horse here and get going.’”

Other noteworthy team turmoil:

Rusty Wallace vs. Ryan Newman

Wallace, 45, was the old school hustler, fast-talking, boastful and proud when Ryan Newman embarked on his rookie Sprint Cup season at Penske Racing in 2002. Newman was just 24, a degreed engineer, and didn’t have much use for Wallace’s advice. The pair didn’t speak much more than required by owner Roger Penske and Newman seemed relieved when Wallace retired in 2005, replaced by Kurt Busch. Newman began complaining about Penske equipment in 2008 and left for Stewart-Haas the next season and Wallace couldn’t resist insisting his former teammate had been fired.

Kevin Harvick vs. Robby Gordon

Team owner Richard Childress mixed volatile personalities in his driver lineup in the mid-2000s and none was more combustible than the relationship between Harvick, the successor to the late Dale Earnhardt, and Robby Gordon, opinionated and unpredictable like Harvick. They had an on-track incident even before Gordon joined RCR and squabbled in 2003 after Gordon passed Harvick under caution to win at Sonoma. Harvick said of Gordon, “stupid is as stupid does." Harvick was eventually rid of Gordon when the owner released Gordon after the 2004 season.

Carl Edwards vs. Matt Kenseth

The enmity of the Roush Fenway blood feud played out on cable television and YouTube in October 2007 as Edwards pushed Kenseth down pit road after the tangled at Martinsville, then raised his fist as if it strike the team’s most tenured driver and 2003 series champion. Roush Fenway spun into full-on damage control mode, with team president Geoff Smith insisting that Edwards was simply playing a game of “made you flinch.” It worked. Really well. Edwards’ image, to that point mostly spotless with the mainstream public, suffered as peers suddenly found an opportunity to declare him fake, disingenuous and in need of anger management. Edwards admitted trouble had been festering and suggested he wasn’t supported by his teammates.

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