With the low downforce package for 2017 leading to higher corner entry speeds this season, drivers have been having to use more brake than ever to be able to slow their cars down to be able to make the corner and on Sunday at Pocono, brake issues came to the forefront early and often.
As speeds at the end of Pocono’s long frontstretch were in the 205 mph range, the brakes were getting a big workout as drivers had to slow down nearly 40 mph to be able to make it through Turn 1, leading to complaints of brake fade throughout the first two stages of the race.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was the first to have issues with his brakes giving up on him, but his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson would suffer brake failure entering Turn 1 on lap 97 that led to a hard hit into the outside SAFER barrier. Another Chevrolet driver, Jamie McMurray, would also have his brakes fail entering that same turn, resulting in a heavy impact for him as well.
As he closed in on Turn 1, Johnson applied the brakes on his No. 48 car, but smoke and flames could be seen erupting from the right-rear wheel well, indicating the brake failure. Johnson’s car turned left down into the grass before taking a right turn toward the outside wall. The right-rear of his car would impact the wall first, whipping the right-front into the wall a split second later.
Johnson would emerge from his car unscathed, but did sit down next to the outside wall, taking a moment to catch his breath while the safety crews attended to him.
“It went right to the floor and I saw a replay inside the medical center,” said Johnson. “The smoke, I think, is the brake fluid coming out of wherever failed and onto the rotors. I can only speculate that I got the brakes too hot and when I went to the brakes they just traveled straight to the floor. I didn’t even have a pedal to push on. At that point, I threw it in third gear and I was just trying to slow it down. I was heading to the grass and I was wondering why I didn’t turn right and get to the wall sooner, but I’m fine. Certainly, a big scare. I haven’t had a scare like that since 2000 at Watkins Glen. So, just want to let my wife and kids and my mom know that I’m okay and I will go change my underwear and get ready to go home.”
“When the brakes fail like that, there’s so much time to think about the crash and I just needed a minute. I thought it was going to be a lot worse than that. And to have it turn out where I basically just scared myself and got out of the car and walked away, I just needed a second to sit down and catch my breath. But, honestly, I have no sore spots or aches. I feel fine.”
Just after Johnson impacted the wall, McMurray’s car appeared to have the same issue and he would go into the Turn 1 wall a couple of hundred yards before the location of Johnson’s impact. While Johnson’s car came to a rest along the outside wall, the right front of McMurray’s car caught fire and he quickly brought it to a stop along the inside wall on the backstretch as the flames grew ever larger on his car.
McMurray was able to escape the flames and hop over the wall to get away from the blaze that was enveloping his Chevrolet, but it would be several more seconds before the first safety truck arrived to extinguish the flames.
“I didn’t really even see the No. 48 (Jimmie Johnson) car wrecking until I just went down and I got on the brake pedal and my pedal started to go to the floor and I had a little bit that I could kind of pump it and I thought I was going to be okay. And then, I don’t know if I got into some oil or what happened, but I just started spinning and didn’t have any brakes. So, it was really weird that we kind of both had the same thing happen at the same point on the racetrack, but fortunately, we are both okay and yeah, move on,” said McMurray.
As a result of the cleanup required, NASCAR would throw the red flag for 23 minutes, 25 seconds before the race resumed to complete Stage 2.
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