Johnson takes blame for steering wheel coming off in qualifying crash

By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief

AVONDALE, Ariz – Jimmie Johnson met with the media early this morning to clarify the accident he had in qualifying, which forced the team to go to a backup car for Sunday’s Good Sam 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

The accident happened in Turn 2 during the final round of knockout qualifying.

In an interview yesterday, Johnson could not confirm what happened, only saying “I don’t know for sure.”

Johnson, 40, would later confirm through Twitter that the steering wheel came off.

This morning the six-time Sprint Cup Series champion told the media that he wanted to talk to his No. 48 Lowe’s team first because he “didn’t want to falsely blame something or someone or whatever the situation may be.”

The hellish crash still fresh in his mind, Johnson described the hellish qualifying crash.

“Yeah, as I came into Turn 1 just working my way through the center of the corner and jumped in the gas and as I jumped in the gas, I guess I pull on the wheel when I do that.  As I pulled on the wheel it just came off in my hands.  So, I was just sitting there with no steering and holding the steering wheel staring at the blue wall and I was along for the ride at that point.”

Johnson mentioned that he only got to the brakes briefly before the heavy impact.

“I got to the brakes briefly,” Johnson said. “I remember looking down at the steering shaft and seeing it spinning and I knew there was no way I could get the wheel back on.  It was all happening so quick.  The interesting thing is I made it all the way down pit lane, got out on the track, made a lap and a half around the race track and then it came off where it did.  So, just proves to me that it can happen anytime, anywhere.

“I would assume it would have happened leaving pit road pretty soon.  But we’ve just got to make sure we get these wheels locked on.  I’m going to make some small changes in my routines in getting in the car.  We have lines in the steering shaft to make sure that your steering wheel is straight; I’m going to have an additional line to make sure that the steering wheel is on far enough and hopefully it is locked at that point.

“To be honest Jeff Gordon gave me that suggestion last night when I was talking with him.  I’m going to put that into effect right away.”

Speculation of part failure came to the forefront following the accident, but Johnson reiterated that it was human error.

“No, this one is one me,” Johnson said. “Last night with the chaos and the guys trying to get the back-up car out, they didn’t have a chance to look at things closely.  This morning coming in they have and this one is one me.”

Johnson said the last time he felt out of control similar to yesterday’s accident was at Watkins Glen in 2000, during an XFINITY (then known as Busch) Series race in which he lost the brakes entering Turn 1 and hit the wall head on.

With many fearful of injury, Johnson attributed his health to the safety innovations that have taken place in NASCAR during his career.

“I feel good, just very thankful that I drive in an era with such safe driver compartments, softer walls, HANS device all those things.  Years ago that would have probably been a concussion at a minimum and to feel as good as I do and no sore spots or aches or pains is really good.

“It’s a good time for the drivers of today.”

Image: NASCAR Media Group

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Joey Barnes is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Motorsports Tribune. He has covered auto racing since 2013 that has spanned from Formula 1 to NASCAR, with coverage on IndyCar. Additionally, his work has appeared on Racer, IndyCar.com and Autoweek magazine. In 2017, he was recognized with an award in Spot News Writing by the National Motorsports Press Association.

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