Paul Menard, Jimmie Johnson clear the air from Daytona Clash incident
It took two days but Jimmie Johnson finally cleared the air with Paul Menard.
Johnson won Sunday's Advanced Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway but did so by inadvertently spinning a race-leading Menard in front of the field in what turned out to be the final lap before a race-ending deluge hit the season-opening exhibition event.
Johnson was declared the winner since he cleared Menard and was in front of the 15-car pile-up his race-winning move triggered. Johnson was running second to Menard when he ducked under the Wood Brothers No. 21, connecting with his left-rear quarter panel and starting the melee that sent him to the lead and ahead of the chaos.
There has been debate over whether one of the two drivers veered into the other, or if it was simply the dirty air dragging the two cars together.
At this point, Menard doesn't care and is ready to move onto the regular season.
"It is what it is," Menard said Wednesday at Daytona 500 Media Day. “I felt like I was holding the wheel as good as I could and I thought being up front was probably a pretty safe place. Jimmie did what he did to try to win. It was not intentional. Maybe I moved down a little bit, I don’t know. There was no room for error and two cars collided.
"What’s done is done. We’re not looking in the rearview mirror on that one. Just moving on."
Johnson said immediately after the race that he felt a degree of remorse for Menard but would prefer speaking in person instead of sending a text message. Menard was one of the many drivers that took his family to Disney World on Tuesday so the two didn't speak until Johnson called Menard in the moments leading up to Media Day.
"It was great to have that conversation and talk to him. He knew then and he knows after our phone call that it wasn’t intentional. Looking back, I could have given him a few more inches. That way when he came down, there was a bit more margin for error between us.
"There’s always lessons to learn, going back on the tape and talking to someone about those things. I think where he and I stand, sure he wasn’t happy after the race with that, but he knew that wasn’t intentional and it was more of a racing thing than anything."
A majority of The Clash saw cars line-up single-file up against the wall. Any attempt to form a second line on the bottom was done in vain, making passing a near impossibility. Johnson new rain could fall at any moment and had little interest in just riding behind Menard until the race ended.
"It really was a racing incident," Johnson said. "I guess if there were two or three more inches in there when he made his move to kind of try to block, there would have been a couple of inches between us. At 200 miles an hour, in the draft, racing for a win, I saw the rain, I knew the rain was coming. I knew we were on the white-flag lap. I’m paid to be out there and be aggressive.
"If we just bump and nobody gets turned around (then) it’s the most the exciting finish we’ve had in the Clash in however long. But, unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way and a lot of cars were torn up."