FONTANA, Calif. -- What Jimmie Johnson perceives as a deficiency in his qualifying efforts was compounded Friday when he spun in Turn 4 during a mock qualifying run at Auto Club Speedway.
Johnson's car turned in front of Kurt Busch, who was rolling slowly on the apron. There was no contact, but Johnson's car plowed into the infield grass before Sunday's Auto Club 400 (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX).
After the incident, Johnson was faced with the prospect of qualifying the backup with no laps on the car since there wasn't sufficient time at the end of practice to prepare the car and get it on the track.
The team then made the difficult decision not to try to qualify the car, preferring to spend the time necessary to prepare the car properly.
"I just felt it was wiser to get the car prepared correctly rather than qualify poorly," crew chief Chad Knaus said. "I wasn't comfortable putting Jimmie in a position where he would have to hustle a car that he hasn't turned a lap in yet."
"We just showed up at the track swinging hard, trying to get all that we could," said Johnson, who has won three poles in his last 113 races as his average starting position declined from 9.8 in 2013 to 12.1 in each of the last two years. "We crossed the line there, for sure, and the car came around on me."
Johnson acknowledged he likely gave Busch an anxious moment as he slid past.
"I knew I was fine, but I'm sure it caught him off-guard seeing a car come by sideways," said Johnson, Fontana's most prolific winner with six victories at the track. "I was really concerned about sliding up in front of others and getting into the outside wall.
"I actually threw it into third (gear) and redirected the car lower on the track. I was kind of wishing I'd stayed with it and let it slide up and maybe I would have avoided the grass if I did so. I was just trying to manage it all."
No bad blood between Earnhardt and Blaney
After wearing out his tires trying to pass Earnhardt on the one-mile track, Blaney had some unkind words for NASCAR's most popular driver on his team radio. Twitter exploded with the invective and Blaney later apologized on the social media platform.
But the damage was done. You don't call out Earnhardt and not expect abuse in return.
"I didn't go on Twitter for a long time," Blaney said Friday at Auto Club Speedway. "I got on it Sunday after the race and was hated widely by a lot of fans, and I've never had that before. That was something a little bit different, so I didn't get on social media for a few days.
"None of that really bothers me -- what other people think -- as long as Dale and I are good, and we are. The social media side is good for the sport. It's really good for what we do and giving fans insight of what our daily lives are throughout the race, but sometimes it's a burden, and that just happened to be one of them, but you get over it and people forget."
Many drivers, after all, are close friends off the track.
"We talked about it after the race," Blaney said. "We're good friends and neighbors. He owns the land that I live on, so, strategically, that may not have been the best thing for me to do that to him last week, but we're good.
"He's a great guy and a good friend of mine."
Aspen Dental expands NASCAR commitment as official partner
Aspen Dental continued to up the ante with respect to its participation in NASCAR racing with the Friday announcement at Auto Club Speedway that the company has undertaken a multiyear partnership as the "Official Dentist of NASCAR."
The announcement coincides with the launch of Aspen Dental's "Get Started" program with NASCAR and Stewart-Haas racing driver Danica Patrick.
Fans can visit AspenDental.com/GetStarted to be entered to win an all-expenses-paid trip for two to the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race on Nov. 5, 2017, at Texas Motor Speedway for a VIP experience and a meet-and-greet with Patrick.
The company will serve as a primary sponsor on Patrick's No. 10 Ford for a "double-digit number of races" this season.
Patrick, whose best result in four starts at Fontana is 14th, is still looking for her first top-five finish in NASCAR's premier series.
"It's probably one of my better tracks," Patrick said of the two-mile speedway. "I feel like there's been a lot of races where I've been in the top 15 and getting stronger as the race goes, so hopefully this weekend is a good race for me at Fontana.
"I would love to do that in the Aspen car and love to just have a good race. At the end of the day, what I said at the beginning of the year is that I want to do this and have fun, and when you do well, you have fun. So hopefully it's a good race."