Kenseth, Johnson Share Friendly Banter
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on October 25, 2013 | 1:27 P.M. EST
Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson traded friendly text messages Friday before resuming their quest for a championship at Martinsville Speedway. (Photo: Getty Images)
MARTINSVILLE, Va. - If the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship is decided between Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth, animosity might not be a theme.
Comedic timing, though, could be.
While Tony Stewart’s digs at Carl Edwards added spice in the final weeks of their 2011 title race, Kenseth and Johnson likely will trade quips and chuckles just as they did Friday morning at Martinsville Speedway.
Kenseth, playing off his struggles and Johnson’s reign at this historic half-mile track, texted his championship foil: "We’re friends and all, but I would appreciate you from refraining from asking too much advice on Martinsville. I hope you understand and am not offended."
Responded Johnson: "I completely understand and wish I could offer you some help one of these days."
Oh, those silly guys.
"For a guy who comes across as dry, he’s awfully funny," Johnson said of Kenseth.
On the track, it’s serious. Johnson leads Kenseth by four points, but it’s easy to expect the lead to grow when the checkered flag waves Sunday. Johnson has eight Martinsville victories, with five of them coming in the Chase. The chassis he’ll use this weekend has only been raced twice - winning the pole and race each of the last two times at Martinsville.
Kenseth has three top-10 finishes in the last four Martinsville races, but his history at this track is littered with double-digit finishes that, if he repeats, could drop him further behind Johnson.
"It’s a challenge," Kenseth said of this weekend. "I think it’s probably less of a challenge than last weekend (at Talladega) because at least you’re kind of in more control of your own destiny here. Hopefully, we can have a good day, still be in it when we leave. I really fell like the next three weeks, if we do everything right ... I feel we could race with anybody."
Two of the last three races will be run on 1.5-mile tracks. While both Kenseth and Johnson have been strong on those tracks, Kenseth has scored four of his seven wins this season on those types of tracks. If Kenseth can just get through this weekend ...
"It's not about getting through this weekend," he said. "We need to run up front and we need to get a good finish."
Johnson isn’t overlooking Kenseth in this Chase or this weekend. He did a 20-mile run this week and just Kenseth’s car number motivated Johnson in the final miles of his run.
"I'm focused mostly on (Kenseth)," Johnson said. "I was pretty frustrated after Charlotte. I was in front of him all day long and when it finished up, he was right there in front of me at the end of the race."
Johnson took the points lead last weekend after finishing 13th at Talladega Superspeedway while Kenseth was 20th. In years past, this might be when Johnson took control of the Chase - and it still could be - but things are different for Kenseth and that could alter this points race.
"I think his departure from Roush and joining up at (Joe) Gibbs, it’s filled in some weak spots ... and this track is a perfect example," Johnson said of Kenseth.
Although Kenseth finished 14th in the spring Martinsville race, he led 96 laps - more than he had led in his 26 previous starts at this track.
"His run in the spring was pretty darn strong," Johnson said. "I think the relationship he has with his team and his crew chief, they’re vibing pretty good, so I’m not going to put my guard down here even though it is one of our better tracks."