Whether or not Jimmie Johnson’s crash Saturday night in Charlotte ultimately ends his quest for a sixth straight championship remains to be seen.
What we thankfully didn’t have to wait for was Johnson climbing from his battered car more or less uninjured after the frightening accident.
Johnson was moving around pretty well during Monday’s fuel injection test at Charlotte Motor Speedway and spent some time addressing the safety of NASCAR as well as the rest of the racing world in light of the Indy Car Series tragedy in Las Vegas that took the life of Dan Wheldon.
After watching the horrific accident unfold, Johnson’s take away is the current Indy Car configuration simply does not belong on high speed oval tracks like LVMS no matter the safety initiatives.
"I wouldn't run them on ovals," Johnson said bluntly. “Why do we run restrictor plates? It’s so the cars stay on the ground. It doesn’t matter the type of race car, if it’s off the ground, you cannot control it in an accident. [Indy] cars are going so fast and get airborne so frequently on ovals that I wouldn’t run them on ovals. There is just no need to.”
Johnson believes Indy Cars have a place in the racing landscape but that series officials should focus on a different venue rather than the high-speed oval.
Although at fifteen it may have been one of the biggest accidents in series history in terms of car count, it wasn’t the first time Indy cars have become airborne at tracks like Las Vegas.
“Those cars are fantastic for street circuits and road courses,” Johnson said. “The ovals at those speeds, you can’t control the vehicle when it’s off the ground. There’s very little crumple zone around the driver, and obviously it’s an open cockpit and then you add open wheels. You’re just creating situations to get the car off the ground at a high rate of speed.”
It is Johnson’s hope that some good comes out of the melee and Wheldon’s death.
"I hate, hate, hate that this tragedy took place,” he said. “But hopefully they can learn from it and make those cars safer on ovals somehow. I don't know how they can really do it. Myself, I have a lot of friends that race in that series, and I'd just rather see them on street circuits and road courses – no more ovals."
Johnson by no means believes NASCAR racing is completely safe or free of risking injury or even death. But his trip into the Charlotte wall was a reminder of just how far the safety initiatives inside stock car racing have come.
“We know what the risks are and the risk factor to driving an open-wheel car is multiplied by ten," Johnson said. "Yes, that threat exists. But I feel like NASCAR has worked hard to keep speeds down, we have devices on the vehicles to keep them on the ground. We don't have those types of crashes.
"I'm not saying the perfect storm couldn't take place and we couldn't get a couple off the ground. ... But I just don't see our cars having the same issue. I don't see the chance anywhere in the ballpark as those open-wheel cars."
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