NASCAR & Auto Racing

Hendrick rift put on pause

RICHMOND, Va. —Can an organization that prides itself on a "one team, two cars" philosophy survive a driver feud ?

Probably not. That's why the rift between Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson isn't likely to grow beyond what has occurred.

That might be disappointing to those looking forward to another chapter during Saturday night's Crown Royal 400 at Richmond International Raceway.

Even the fact that Johnson and Gordon qualified Friday one after the other drew attention. As it turned out, Gordon went out first and qualified fourth-fastest, but Johnson ended up third.

Kyle Busch won the pole, his first of the season and sixth of his series career.

"It's very difficult to keep a group of roughly 90 people that we have working together in the 24/48 shop in harmony," said Johnson's crew chief, Chad Knaus. "We had a policy that when one gets rewarded, they all get rewarded. When one has to work, they all have to work."

At Hendrick, the Nos. 24 and 48 work out of the same shop as do the Nos. 88 and 5.

"We all work together," Knaus said. "It's easy for a driver to maybe lose sight of that, but I can promise you that what would destroy our team is any type of friction like that. We're not going to allow that . . ."

Knaus' counterpart with the No. 24, Steve Letarte, struck much the same chord.

"I have all the faith in the world that they know the line and not to cross it and make sure they race each other clean," Letarte said. "While we want to beat our teammates, we don't have to affect their day in a negative way."

On Friday, both drivers agreed an early-week conference call with team owner Rick Hendrick helped them understand it's in the best interest of the company to get past any differences.

"We couldn't let it affect the day-to-day operation. It's all good and we've moved on," Gordon said.

The feud, if you can call it that, started two weeks ago at Texas, when Johnson slammed into Gordon after Gordon had nudged him out of the way for position . After the race both drivers insisted they were "disappointed" in the other.

Then, Gordon lashed out at Johnson following Sunday's race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, saying he was "running out of patience" with Johnson after Johnson moved down the track and cut Gordon off.

"Our conversation was pretty good to be honest with you. In a lot of ways from Rick's standpoint, my standpoint, and Jeff's it was just a mistake that I made," Johnson said.

"And unfortunately coming off the heels of Texas and the fact that Jeff crashed after that and the emotions were high, he got out of the car and said some things that he probably didn't want to."

Fans have enjoyed the dust-up.

"We want the fans to take sides. That's what the sport is all about . . . pick your driver and root for them," Letarte said. "Just because it works better for our team and our company to have it structured this way, fans don't have to like us both.

"As long as they like somebody; as long as they are buying seats; then we're happy."

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