Aftermath, Texas: No ‘Trouble At HMS,’ But Does Jimmie Johnson's Mental Game Have A Weak Spot?

The words coming out of Jimmie Johnson's mouth seemed out of place for the always-in-control, always-say-the-right-thing reigning champion.

He seemed to sense it immediately, and was in damage control before he finished his thought.

After saying he was "pretty disappointed" with how Hendrick Motorsports teammate/friend/mentor Jeff Gordon raced him at Texas on Monday, Johnson dismissed his own comments in the same breath.

"Don't get the headline writers out saying ‘Trouble At HMS,' because it's really no big deal," he said. "To have the word ‘disappointed' used from Jeff and myself I don't think is a very big deal."

Sure, it's no big deal if your name is Kyle Busch. But Gordon and Johnson saying they were disappointed with one another is about as strong of a negative comment as you'll ever hear them say publicly.

Let's acknowledge first that friends have disagreements all the time. Though adrenaline boils in the heat of the moment, such things really aren't a "big deal" in the larger picture.

So, as both drivers said, they'll sit down, hash it out and move on.

But that this clash occurred at all should serve as a guide to the rest of Johnson's competitors: The man with the strongest mental game in the sport still has some weaknesses.

When Gordon pushed Johnson into a turn on Monday, Johnson lost his cool – uncharacteristic for the latest four-time champ – and slammed into Gordon's car.

"Four-Time's a little upset!" Gordon said sarcastically on the team radio. "He just wants to be treated different than everybody else."

Johnson said later he was miffed that Gordon wouldn't back off his rear bumper, explaining the incident by saying, "It was like, ‘Man, I really can't go anywhere if you're there, pushing me. If you'd just get off my ass and let me get control of my car, I can accelerate."

So when Johnson went up the track and Gordon began to pass underneath, Johnson came back down and slammed Gordon.

Said Gordon: "I guess he thought I was being too aggressive. I don't know, he just drove into my door."

Because of the incident, Johnson sustained fender damage and had to eventually pit for a flat tire caused by the contact. He got lucky with a timely caution, but was less than 10 laps away from having to pit for fuel under the green flag, which would have ruined his day.

Such self-induced mistakes by Johnson are rare, especially ones involving the mental game. He's won four championships in large part because of his iron-clad focused approach that allows him to focus strictly on the task at hand.

As Johnson has said time and again, he "puts the blinders on" and blocks out all the outside distractions.

But at Texas, Gordon rattled him enough to force a mistake. That may be the secret to dethroning Johnson.

And really, it's about time someone stood up to Johnson. The champ seems to bristle when someone dares to race him too hard, which doesn't happen very often.

If a driver was able to plant the seeds of a rivalry with Johnson, there's a chance his mental approach may not hold up.

All drivers have longer memories than we give them credit for. There are rarely clean slates. One driver, for example, keeps a list of names on the inside of his uniform and marks them off after he's achieved his revenge.

Disagreements may be smoothed over with texts or phone calls the week following a wreck, and they may shake hands and vow to move on.

But the moment hard racing occurs again and the adrenaline is up, the bandage is ripped away and the memories of past incidents return.

No one has challenged Johnson in that manner, but Gordon may be the man to do it.

Gordon's increasing frustration and annoyance that Johnson continues to dominate and win in the same equipment as his has led to a fire that burns hotter with every Johnson victory or Gordon setback.

Last year, Gordon admitted Johnson's run has even affected their friendship. So it's doubtful that incidents like the one at Texas will be as easy to forgive and forget as they once were.

Whoever knocks Johnson off the pedestal will be treated as a conquering hero, and attacking Johnson through the mental game may be the way to do it.

You wouldn't expect that the dragon-slayer would come from Johnson's own team, but if that's what it takes, so be it.

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