CHUCK BURTON / AP Enlarge
There are two things that never forget - elephants and race car drivers. It can be five years and 15,000 laps later, but if a guy feels you did him wrong out on the track, it will still be gnawing at him like it happened yesterday.
Take Jimmie Johnson, who has won the last four Sprint Cup Series championships. Days before the stock car world stages its season-opening Super Bowl with Sunday's Daytona 500, the reigning king of the sport is toting a grudge.
The normally affable Johnson is still grousing over an incident from last season when he felt fellow driver Sam Hornish, Jr., took him out of a race at Texas Speedway. Replays showed that Hornish was first hit by David Reutimann, forcing Hornish into Johnson, but that slice of tape did not seem to placate Johnson.
"The guy I wouldn't want to learn from would be Sam Hornish," Johnson said recently in Daytona. "He hits way too much stuff, including me."
The incident temporarily knocked Johnson out of the race, and he lost some of his big points lead over Mark Martin, but with just two races left at that time, Johnson's run to a fourth championship was not seriously threatened. As he prepares for his third Daytona 500, Hornish seems baffled by all of the hullabaloo.
"I guess I'm a little bit surprised by this," Hornish said. "Jimmie's had ample opportunity to look at the videotape."
Hornish said he recalled that Johnson was steamed in the moments after the Texas race in November, but Hornish assumed that a review of the footage would have made it clear that there was no intention to take Johnson out on Hornish's part.
"Jimmie ripped me at Texas, but I knew he hadn't seen what happened," Hornish said. "The next week he said he shouldn't have said those things. And David Reutimann called me up after that happened and said he was sorry he took me out of the race."
Johnson made it clear he expected an in-person apology from Hornish, and he was still mad three months later, since that conversation never took place.
"He hasn't said one word," Johnson said. "Either way, with everything that was on the line, wouldn't you at least walk up and say, 'Man, I hate it for you. It wasn't my fault.' But the guy just doesn't talk. He doesn't say anything. No. It's like it must have been someone else."
Hornish, the Defiance native and three-time champion of the IndyCar Series who is starting his third season driving full-time in Sprint Cup, said he plans to talk to Johnson about the affair.
"I don't want anybody to be mad at me or not like me because of something that happened on the race track. If you don't like me as a person, that's one thing, but we're all racing hard and trying to do what we do," Hornish said. "Now, after all this, next time I see him, I will talk to him."
Hornish and Johnson will avoid each other in tomorrow's twin Gatorade Duel qualifying races, since they are running in separate events. Only pole-sitter Mark Martin and
No. 2 starter Dale Earnhardt, Jr., have their positions for Sunday's Daytona 500 set - the remainder of the field and starting positions will be set based on the results of the Duels.
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