Two donnybrooks were unfolding last Saturday. One took place in Las Vegas between Floyd Mayweather and Shane Mosley (page 50). The other, if you believed the buzz, was anticipated at Richmond International Speedway between the leading lights of Hendrick Motorsports, erstwhile buddies Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon. But no fenders were banged as Gordon came in second behind winner Kyle Busch while Johnson wound up 10th. Nevertheless, the question lingers: Is this merely a lull in a spat that has made Gordon and Johnson the bitterest rivals in their sport?
Their enmity is striking because the two were once fast friends. In 2001 Johnson, having just lost his sponsor, was looking for a job when he approached Gordon, whom he had never met. "I need advice," Johnson said.
"You're not going to believe this," Gordon replied, "but we're considering hiring you."
The rest is NASCAR history. Gordon and Rick Hendrick enlisted Johnson, who has since won 50 races and the last four Sprint Cup titles while Gordon has played the mentor and proud parent—until now.
The trouble began at Texas Motor Speedway on April 19 when Johnson didn't give ground to a fast-charging Gordon and the two collided at 180 mph. Six days later Johnson again blocked Gordon, late at Talladega, prompting Gordon to say he was "pissed."
Last week Johnson apologized, and Richmond passed without incident. But this story is far from over because for the first time since '06 Gordon has a car that can consistently outrun Johnson's, which has happened in four of the last five races. After Richmond, Gordon took the high road. "Our team is really on top of our game," he said.
To win the championship, though, Gordon will have to keep beating his protégé. Don't expect these former garage pals to grab lunch together anytime soon.
RALPH LAUER/AP (JOHNSON AND GORDON)
LOVE TAP Gordon (24) and Johnson playfully bumped in testing at 'Dega, but all has not been fun and games at Hendrick.
DAVE MARTIN/AP (CARS)
[See caption above]