What he really did was anger the four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion.
“I thought, I don’t care if I win this race or not,” Johnson said. “I don’t care if I finish this damn thing. I’m running into him and get by him one way or another.”
Johnson paid back Busch with a poke of his own in the final stretch to surge ahead with two laps left and win the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday for his fifth victory of the season.
“For sure, that’s what the fans want to see,” Johnson said.
Busch grabbed the lead with about seven laps left when he nudged Johnson in the left rear and out of the way. Johnson ran down Busch and quickly got side by side to energize what had been a lackluster race on the 1.058-mile track.
Johnson put a little bump on Busch to move him up the track, allowing the No. 48 to slip underneath for the victory. His five wins tie Denny Hamlin for the series lead.
“I’m not good at doing that stuff,” Johnson said. “Usually I crash myself in the process. So I tried it once and moved him. The second time I moved him out of the way and got by him.”
Busch said his intention was to pass Johnson cleanly until he realized he could just push him out of his path. Johnson said he’d be surprised if Busch tried to purposely wreck him.
“If that’s his intentions, that’d be the first time in nine years racing with him I’d experienced that,” Johnson said. “It definitely changes the way I race with him from that point on. I hate that he felt I wasn’t going to wreck him, because that was my goal, to wreck him.”
“Strike that from the comments, he didn’t really mean that,” Johnson crew chief Chad Knaus interjected.
Johnson didn’t believe there would be further retaliation.
“He didn’t wreck me, so at the end of the day I guess I didn’t owe him,” Johnson said.
The four-time defending champion pulled away to win his second straight race after taking the checkered flag last week on the road course at Infineon Raceway.
It was a bump off the track that Johnson was most concerned about — his wife’s baby bump.
Johnson dedicated the win to his pregnant wife, Chandra, who is at home and due with their first child around the time of the July 10 race at Chicagoland Speedway. Johnson used Aric Almirola as his standby driver.
“Hopefully you didn’t go into labor with this victory,” he said to his wife. “Wait for me, I want to be a part of this.”
Tony Stewart finished second and Busch was third. Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five.
“When you struggle as bad as we have, it definitely wasn’t going to hurt to go do something like that,” Stewart said.
The 318-mile race was almost absent of cautions until the very end, with 201 straight laps of green-flag racing. Kasey Kahne drove up front for most of the race and led 110 laps until engine problems knocked him out. Polesitter Juan Pablo Montoya also was in contention until he was knocked out late by a lapped car.
Jeff Burton was a serious threat to win for the first time in two years until he made the decision not to pit with 17 laps left. He was the only lead lap driver not to pit and it cost him when he spun into Kyle Busch and took them both out of contention.
Kurt Busch knew his car wasn’t strong enough to win and just hoped that late-race tap was enough to hold off Johnson.
“We did what we could to get the lead,” Busch said. “I was just counting the laps and was like, man, there’s not enough laps. The thought was, those 10 points for winning would look a lot better stacked in our deck than in his chip count.”
Johnson has stormed back to championship form.
He has totally silenced the doubts that he was in a slump or appeared vulnerable during a five-race stretch from April to May. He’s won two straight races for the second time this season and has four top-six finishes in a row.
“Yeah, I don’t think we went anywhere,” Johnson said. “It was easy to overreact because we had some poor finishes and that was due to over-aggression.”
Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joey Logano and AJ Allmendinger completed the top 10.
One week after short tempers and rugged driving on the road course led to threats of payback, it was a tame race in New Hampshire. In this one, Montoya said Gordon “messed him up” but said he wasn’t angry with him.
“I’m confused,” Johnson said to laughter. “For a while there, our sport was boring. Then we wrecked the crap out of them last week and now all of a sudden we have a problem because everybody is wrecking, and now this week it wasn’t as exciting.”