CONCORD, N.C. — Five-time defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson called on IndyCar to stop racing on ovals in the wake of Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon’s death.
Wheldon was killed in a 15-car accident during Sunday’s season finale IndyCar race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a high-banked, 1.5-mile oval.
"I wouldn’t run them on ovals. There’s just no need to," Johnson said Monday during a test session at Charlotte Motor Speedway. "Those cars are fantastic for street circuits, for road courses. I hate, hate, hate that this tragedy took place. But hopefully they can learn from it and make those cars safer on ovals somehow.
"I don’t know how they can really do it. Myself, I have a lot of friends that race in that series, and I’d just rather see them on street circuits and road courses. No more ovals."
Johnson was in his own frightening accident Saturday night at Charlotte, where his car hit headfirst into the wall. The back wheels briefly lifted off the track, but Johnson walked away and suffered only next-day soreness.
He’s always wanted to race in the Indianapolis 500, but when his daughter was born last year, Johnson said he promised his wife he would not drive an IndyCar. The combination of the speeds and the car design — an IndyCar has an open cockpit and open wheels that can’t withstand the bumping that occurs on ovals — has made him gun shy about racing cars that don’t have a roof.
"Their average was 225? I’ve never been 225 mph in my life — and that’s their average around an oval. They are brave men and women that drive those things," Johnson said. "There’s very little crumple zone around the driver, it’s an open cockpit, and then you add open wheels — it’s just creating situations to get the car off the ground at a high rate of speed. And you can’t control the car when it’s off the ground."
Johnson watched Sunday’s race at home and said he was glued to his television, mouth wide open as he watched the replays of Wheldon’s accident.
"Knowing Dan and his wife and two kids, and then I’m sitting there with my daughter running around in the backyard, I was torn up yesterday," Johnson said. "I mean, I know Dan, or knew Dan. We just stared at the TV for a long time yesterday with long faces. Just really sad."