Driver Jimmie Johnson was unhurt and took responsibility for an accident during qualifying for Sunday’s Good Sam 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race when the steering wheel in his No. 48 Chevy came out of the steering column.
“This one is on me,” Johnson said Saturday morning at Phoenix International Raceway, where his No. 48 Chevy had slammed into a SAFER barrier in Turn 2 during Friday’s final round of qualifying. “I feel good, just very thankful that I drive in an era with such safe driver compartments, softer walls, HANS devices, all those things. Years ago, that would have probably been a concussion at a minimum. To feel as good as I do – no sore spots or aches or pains – is really good. It’s a good time for the drivers of today.”
Johnson said he should have checked before going on his qualifying run that the steering wheel was secured in the column.
“I’ve always believed that my belts, my HANS (device), my helmet being buckled and my steering wheel are my responsibility,” said Johnson, who will use a backup car and start from the rear of the field Sunday. “Those three or four connection points are my life line. I am completely shocked that happened to me. I’ve never had this happen. I’ve seen it happen to others and I’ve thought, ‘How in the world does that happen?’ Well, it just happened to me. It’s just a freak thing.”
Johnson said as he went into Turn 1, he pulled on the steering wheel and it came out of the column. He said he looked into the steering shaft, saw it spinning and knew he couldn’t put the wheel back in.
“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,” he said. “Hold on. Maybe a four letter word or two crossed my mind as well. When I saw the blue and the angle that I was at and the speed I was at, I knew it was going to be a big impact.”
Johnson will now add steering-wheel security to his checklist every time he takes his car on the track.
“We’ve just got to make sure we get these wheels locked on,” Johnson said. “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. I’m going to put that into effect right away.”