Having stirred up a considerable pro and con discussion with his comments Monday to the effect that IndyCar should reconsider its racing on oval tracks, Jimmie Johnson moved to clarify his views in an interview Wednesday with SPEED's Robin Miller. Johnson said he was referring specifically to the type of pack racing that results on fast, high-banked speedways like Las Vegas Motor Speedway, site of the 15-car pileup last Sunday that resulted in the death of Dan Wheldon.
“I knew Dan and what happened really bothered me and I just wanted to say how I felt, that it was a tragedy and I didn't think they needed to be running on those fast ovals,'' Johnson told Miller. “And then I said I hoped things would improve if they continued to race on them, because you can't have cars getting airborne. The catch fence eats vehicles and puts the drivers and spectators at great risk, that's why we have restrictor plates.
“We hate that kind of racing at Daytona and Talladega and we've got restrictor plates so I can't imagine the bravery it takes in an IndyCar.”
Johnson said he had been distraught that his comments had been taken as criticism of the IndyCar community at a time of mourning, and said he had contacted IndyCar drivers and series officials to explain what he meant.
“The last thing I wanted to do was upset the open-wheel community. I'm a huge fan of IndyCar racing. I watch it all the time and I have some good friends over there,” he continued. “P.T. [Paul Tracy], Dario [Franchitti] and Will [Power] all understood what I was talking about and my conversation with Randy [Bernard, IndyCar CEO] went well.”
Johnson admitted to SPEED that his original comments, made to the media at a NASCAR test at Charlotte the day following the race, had been a largely emotional reaction to Wheldon's death.
“It tore me up,” he said. “And when the press asked me about Dan's death I felt like was doing what I should. We all know racing is dangerous but we all need to co-exist and make it as safe as possible.”