Jimmie Johnson apologized for causing a fiery crash involving Kurt Busch and Elliott Sadler at Pocono, after he hit the back of the Penske driver's Dodge while fighting for position.
The reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion had dominated most of the first half of the race but in the last quarter of the distance and while trying to break into the top 10 again, he made contact with the rear of Busch's car on the stretch between Turns 1 and 2. The Penske driver ended up losing control and crashing against the wall before turning left and hitting the inside barrier as well.
Behind them, Sadler got caught in the chain reaction and suffered a massive impact with the inside Armco. The magnitude of the hit was such that the engine of his Richard Petty Motorsports Ford got torn apart from the chassis and ended up lying at the side of the track as the front end was completely destroyed.
Following the crash and while the race was red-flagged to clean the debris from the track, Johnson apologized over his radio communication and after the race he explained he was simply trying to push Busch so that both got past Clint Bowyer, who was running on the outside of them.
"I just came up to bump-draft [Busch] and push him along down the back straightaway," said Johnson. "So, we did make some contact. I was just trying to bump draft him. He was already wobbling and I bumped him and then it was wobbling some more and then eventually it did a lazy turn to the right and into the wall.
"I certainly feel bad. I am glad the No. 19 [Sadler] is OK. I understand he took a heck of a hit. Last thing I wanted to do was cause a wreck or crash the No. 2 [Kurt Busch] or anything like that. I feel bad about that but we were all just racing real hard down the back."
Busch said Johnson drove "straight through" him and was left fuming at the maneuver from the Hendrick driver. Johnson said after the race that he remains open to talking to Busch about the incident, even knowing that he does not enjoy the best relationship with the former Cup champion.
"Kurt isn't very fond of me, he never has been," said Johnson. "I think when he has a chance to take a shot at me, he will probably do so. But certainly nothing intentional and if he would like to talk about it, I'm more than willing to talk...I will definitely talk to him. If I am right or wrong, I have nothing to hide, so I will gladly talk to him."
Sadler caused concern, as he seemed to be in a lot of pain when he tried to get out of his stricken machine. Once he was out, he lay on the track trying to catch his breath. He was evaluated at the track's care center but released a few minutes later with only soreness in his upper body.
He was full of praise for his team and NASCAR for building such safe cars that allowed him to walk away from what he considered his hardest crash ever.
"I'm OK. I'm a little sore," said Sadler. "The breath definitely got knocked out of me. It was probably the hardest hit I've ever had in a racecar, but I've got to thank all my guys back at home who put these things together.
"It knocked the engine out of it. I know it knocked the sway bar tube and the whole sway bar out of it and the whole left-front wheel assembly, but I'm still in one piece so it did its job. The way it hit the guardrail back there was pretty tough.
"I haven't seen the replay, but somebody just ran into the back of us and turned us inside through the wet grass into the guardrail, so I was along for the ride. It was a very hard hit. I'm a little sore through my chest and my stomach, but that's from where the seatbelts did their job and grabbed me and kept me in the car, so I'm thankful for that."
Four-time Pocono winner Jeff Gordon supported views that the safety in some areas of the 2.5-mile oval need to be upgraded. SAFER barriers were implemented at the track following a hard crash he had at the venue in 2006, but he believes work remains to be done to bring the track up to standard.
"The incidents speak for themselves," Gordon said. "There are times when we've got to step up the technology and the safety of certain facilities. We've seen a few incidents here this year, and I think it's going to be a wake-up call for some improvements. It's a great track. We love coming here. But there's definitely some areas that need to be improved."
Track owners had already planned on safety upgrades for next year but further changes are expected following Sadler's crash.