CONCORD, N.C. --Jimmie Johnsonwas asked Tuesday to give a prediction for who would win the Sprint All-Star Race next week. Of course, the crowd expected Johnson to pick himself to win the event.
Instead, Johnson delivered a bit of comedy in his answer:
"Since I let Junior win last week ..."
The response generated a great deal of laughter in the crowd but also likely will only fuel those on social media who made comments to Johnson on Twitter that he let Hendrick Motorsports teammateDale Earnhardt Jr.win last Sunday at Talladega. The six-time Cupchampion ran second behind Earnhardt for dozens of laps, and while he did duck to the inside to try to get a push when a lane formed with a little more than a lap remaining, he didn't get the push he needed.
Some fans felt Johnson purposely didn't make a move because he wanted to let Earnhardt win, which also would virtually guarantee Earnhardt a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Some wrote that Johnson finally paid back Earnhardt for pushing Johnson to the win in April 2011 -- at a time when drivers were fastest in a two-car tandem draft.
"It was more about, 'You owed us, thanks for letting Junior win,'" Johnson said following the news conference to promote the all-star race. "For one, I didn't owe you. Two, you're taking away what your driver did.
"He won the race. You're acting like I just let him win the race. ... You'd think [fans] would stand up and be like, 'My guy kicked butt today and he won the race.' Instead, there's been a lot of, 'Ah, well, you let him win.' Would you be happy with that if I let your driver win? It's been a very interesting brain teaser."
Johnson said the reason he interacted with some fans on Twitter was more from a desire to educate them than from frustration or anger over the allegations.
"I saw them all originally flying home and I was just like, 'OK, whatever,'" Johnson said. "And then I woke up and it was still going on and I was like, 'Are people really serious?' ... I just picked a couple on there and I was like, 'All right, this has gone long enough. I mean, really?'"
A driver running second at restrictor-plate races often waits until the last lap or two to make a move. Johnson said the inside lane never formed well enough to give him a push by Earnhardt.
"That's the most ridiculous thing ever," Johnson said about the thought of letting Earnhardt win. "If I didn't win, absolutely I'd want it to be [my teammates]. So on that side, I'm stoked for him and stoked for the shop. But man, I was doing everything in my power to set up a pass for the win."