NASCAR champ's ill-timed comments no help to IndyCar

October 18, 2011
Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

People are coming out of the woodwork in the wake of the massive accident Sunday that killed Dan Wheldon to say shame on the IndyCar Series for creating an unsafe atmosphere at the Las Vegas race.

Front and center is NASCAR champ Jimmie Johnson.

“I wouldn’t run them on ovals,” Johnson proclaimed during a test session Monday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “There’s just no need to. 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,” Johnson added. “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.”

I appreciate Johnson’s sense of sadness and concern.

But as I told Steve Simpson this morning on WIBC-FM 93.1, no one points fingers better than the people within open-wheel racing. Apparently that extends to NASCAR as well. Is Johnson really suggesting that the century-old Indianapolis 500 be ended?

This is not the time for knee-jerk reactions. And it’s certainly not the time for finger pointing.

Before IndyCar officials begin to contemplate the future of the series and the safeness of oval racing, raw emotions must be dealt with.

It’s a time to mourn the loss of Wheldon, by all accounts a wonderful ambassador for the sport. And it’s a time to have compassion for his family and close friends. It’s a time of quiet contemplation and prayer.

Those emotions then must somehow be separated from a careful scrutiny of the incident, and the future of the sport of open-wheel racing.

The design of the cars and engines, the tracks the series races on, the way the sport is promoted and myriad other things need to be looked at methodically, analytically and strategically.

Then and only then can IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard, his lieutenants along with team owners and drivers, map out the best plan to go forward.


  • Hear hear
    Yes, let's turn Indycar racing into NASCAR where nothing special actually gets done on the track so it has to be all about the drivers' outsized personalities. By all means.
  • No help to Indycar?
    Indycar needs no help because it is constantly destroying itself.

    Everyone needs to realize this is the SAME chassis that has propelled Kenny Brack into a maiming crash at Texas, Ryan Briscoe at Chicagoland, Wheldon at Indy and Las Vegas, Marco at Indy and Mid-Ohio, Tony Renna at Indy, Mario Andretti at Indy, Sam Hornish at Indy. It's also the same chassis that has been breaking backs with regularity since it came into service 9 years ago.

    NINE YEARS AGO....and yes, remember the line "OUR CARS DON'T FLY"? Nothing but the full body wicker bill, 50G impact sidepod lights and a rear attenuator on the transmission has ever been done to solve the problem.

    But, you see, the problem always has been the IRL.Indycar/Series wanted to be an open wheeled version of NASCAR on ovals, which produced breathtaking 0.0000001 second finishes. The IMS PROMOTED this danger, Randy Bernard said so himself....and he also said it was going to be dangerous under his watch. It has proven to be that. Double file restarts, bunching cars, too many cars too fast for a track, keeping Brian Barnhart and Al Under Jr on staff, safety trucks on a HOT track, safety crews arriving on burning car scene without fire exstinguishers. Yup, REAL dangerous. Ripping 100G impact drivers out of car without backboard extraction. Their alive, right? Grrrr....

    So, enough is enough of padding the walls and making the fences higher, and changing the tracks to suit the cars. It's time for the series to change....for if it continues to place drivers and fans in danger it will not survive, either.

    Indy, Indycars or the IRL is NOT the victim here, stop portraying it like it is! They are the culprits...100% incompetent and culpable for their total neglect and negligence! How much more evidence do you need?

  • Mario Andretti says
    For what it's worth, Mario Andretti believes "that there is no need for any knee-jerk reactions to the design of cars and circuits as a result of Wheldon's death." Mario called the accident "freakish." I think given his experience, Mario's opinion should count for something.
  • Perfect

    Congratulations. This is the single best article I have seen written about this unspeakable tragedy, and it's aftermath, yet.
    Hey Chief - strong comments for someone who doesnt know what they are talking about! What do you think Wheldon has been helping IRL with when he wasn't racing? It has taken 9yrs and new leadership to see that IRL could develop a safer car...The world wasn't created in a day! As for JJ, keep your nose in your own business - these are true racing cars, Mr Johnson - they go for speed, exciting finishes, and yes, sometimes it is dangerous - if I want to watch cruising around a road course, I;ll sit on a bridge and watch the traffic go by!
  • Ignorant Comment
    Let's back the truck---or in this case--- the mouth' of Jimmie Johnson up!. Subscribing to what he must believe as a "history begins with me" mentality, Johnson incredibly believes that the way to mitigate the risk and subsequent tragedies of open wheel racing is to eliminate racing on oval circuits. That's akin to saying that running races should only be conducted on grass---including the Boston Marathon. People could hurt themselves if they fall on the asphalt or concrete surfaces.

    The best way to respond to Jimmie Johnson on this matter is to ignore him. He doesn't deserve any more time. Matter of fact, I feel bad I took the time to air my opinion.
  • This is what you've got?
    Why wouldn't you write a story about how the .1rl broke its own rule book by allowing more than 28 cars to start in Vegas?

    Why not ask Randy and the rest of the H/G clan why they thought it would be a good idea to have 5 guys from NASCAR and F1 race, when Randy said they could ony have 1 day of practice before Death Race 2011 took place?

    Why not ask the other drivers who have been quoted as saying that they knew it was going to be bad, why they didn't refuse to race?

    This is the best you can come up with???
    A NASCAR guy who along with everyone else doesn't believe the .1rl is a save series isn't helping the league???
    News Flash: The League isn't helping the league. Never has and it never will, as long as the H/G clan only care about their 1 race a year.
    Oh yeah, I hear there was only about 20,000 people there and the league gave away 80,000 free tickets.
    I did see some bragging over on TF that ABC's crash coverage drew a 1.5 rating. Not hearing what the 12 laps of racing drew.

    I'd add that anyone who Takes Mario's or any other persons word as gospel if they're making $$$ off the .1rl, probably believes Dick Cheney when he said Haliburton's government contracts were all a good deal for taxpayers too... :roll:
  • hAY Mary
    What exactly do I not know that I am talking about?

    The sport is in a world of hurt and the "nimble" reactions of the IMS in dealing with the problems of the past 9 years haven't left anyone confident EXCEPT the OW crash ghouls and IMS paid propagandists, that have been proven wrong over and over and over again and again.
  • Sad Sad Sad
    I wonder how long until the personal injury attorneys show up? Tragic freak accident in a sport that is well known to be death-defying and dangerous. All of the drivers and owners know this well. My heart goes out to Dan's wife and precious babies.
  • Johnson's Comments Lack Some Perspective
    Jimmy Johnson is a great driver, but his comments really lack perspective. First off, we all know that any form of racing is dangerous, although it is markedly safer today across all forms of racing, including open wheel.

    Additionally, I think one irony of Johnson's comments is that the advent of the Safer Barriers likely saved his life this past weekend, as he hit the Safer Wall almost identically to the hit that took Dale Earnhardt's life in 2000. But lest we forget, it was IRL who pioneered the Safer Barriers before Nascar took the initiative.

    Additionally, with reference to the website of, and while Open Wheel has had their share of deaths, it is noted that some 60 NASCAR drivers have died since NASCAR started in 1949. Included beyond Dale Earnhardt are Alan Kulwicki, Neil Bonnett, Davey Allison, Dale Earnhardt, Bobby Hamilton, Benny Parsons, Grant Adcox, Tim Richmond, T. Wayne Robertson, Ralph Seagraves, Kenny Irwin Jr., Adam Petty, Bruce Jacobi, J. D. McDuffie, Bobby Isaac, Harry Hyde, etc.

    There are clearly learning points from the terrible tragedy of Dan Wheldon's death, including from my perspective too many cars running flat out without lifting, which creates the "dense pack" affect, the fact that the wheels have no chassis protection, and that the wings which create downforce, also can have the downside of leaving the track surface when accidents occur. Some of the above are being addressed by the 2012 IRL Chassis, and based upon Open Wheel's history, I have little doubt that ever more thought will be given to ensuring further safety. However, no form of racing can honestly claim that death is not a possibility, either now or in the future, so I do take strong exception to Jimmy Johnson's comments.

  • I bet there are hunedreds
    of F1 and NASCAR drivers who are kicking themselves for not showing up for Sunday's IRL deathrace 2011. They already have their applications in for next year's though.
  • 'Expert' commentary???
    "IndyCar expert" Jimmie Johnson...isn't.

    And I believe one detail is being overshadowed by the enormous tradegy of Dan's death: not one other driver was seriously injured in this accident. The cars, the safer barrier, the safety equipment did their jobs.
  • Time to Listen & Learn, Randy
    Andrew, another good article about a very sensitive topic. As you mentioned yesterday, we knew there'd be "finger pointing" from a variety of areas - WISH TV8 resident blowhard Derek Daly being one of the more obnoxious ones.

    I'm surprised Jimmy Johnson would speak out so negatively about IndyCar but, regardless of one's feelings about NASCAR, the man did make solid points that should be considered when (and if) IndyCar looks at their sport in terms of safety, sanity and promotion.

    Unlike Chief and other self-proclaimed experts who post here, I'm not qualified to suggest what changes should be made to the IndyCar series. I do know, just by watching, there were too many cars on the 1.5mile Las Vegas oval this past Sunday.

    I also know a couple of IndyCar's veteran racers shared their concern about the Las Vegas track and the race before the green flag dropped.

    Here's hoping that, in the future, Randy Bernard (if he stays with IndyCar) will consult the drivers and the teams to get their valuable input on some of his hare-brained promotional ideas.
  • Chief speaks the truth
    Chief's comment was correct. Ever since I've seen these cars running on NASCAR style ovals I've been surprised there aren't more deaths. It's given the series a false sense of security.

    Robin Miller's report on Wind Tunnel was pretty telling. Practice with less than half the field at a time was so hairy that he didn't even want to watch it. He said that Adrian Fernandez hadn't seen drivers so anxious in his life.

    Will Power's father said that Will told him prior to the race that someone was going to get killed at that race.

    Pack racing is dangerous enough in NASCAR but insane in IndyCar.

    Hopefully, the powers that be will learn that making the cars safer is only part of the answer. Equally important is a responsible consideration of which style of tracks are safe for IndyCar and which types are not. I'm not holding my breath.
  • Driver boycott
    If it was so dangerous and the drivers knew it, why didn't they boycott. This is a common practice in European auto and cycle racing when a course is simply seen by the competitors as too dangerous. If the drivers knew this race was a death trap, then they are part to blame. No one forced anyone to drive in this race.
  • Contempt for the AOW Media
    I understand Robin Miller's remorse on Windtunnel...

    Frankly, I have nothing but CONTEMPT for all of the so called AOW journalists today. WHY? Because they swept the problems of this chassis and this series completely under the rug in an attempt to steer attention toward the rebuilding of this sport under the direction of Randy Bernard.

    Suddenly, everything they've been selfishly silencing since Tony George was ousted, was all brought into the forefront again with this catastrophe at Las Vegas.

    So, Miller, knows that he too had a part in all this. And all people want to do is castrate the folks like Daly, Miller, Pruett, Hinton and all the rest for telling it like it is. Shame on all you Indy gomers.

    Well friends, it is the truth. The BIG Indy machine failed everyone this time. It's being plastered all over the airwaves, in every social media outlet everywhere. What's even more amazing is Indy-centrics' are blaming everything BUT the Speedway.

    Wise-up, friends. No one is going to take your 500 away from you. but change must occur if this sport is to survive. And it starts at the top of that organization and should be flushed clean. There is no other way.
  • Not to be picky...
    ...Mike, but I think that is just a comprehensive list of NASCAR drivers who have passed, not ones who have died on the track. Off hand I know Tim Richmond died of aids and Davey Allison died in a helicopter crash.
  • Blame Game
    The blame game that is underway is utterly ridiculous. This was a terrible tragedy that will ultimately help make all of racing safer. The cars today are so much safer than in the past. Changes that are already forthcoming and other changes that will assuredly be made will ensure that Dan did not die in vain. Racing history has shown us that these tragedies ultimately make the sport better (Anybody remember the 1964 Indy--terrible but it didn't kill the sport nor will this as some would like). All forms of racing have a dilema. Competitive cars that run together create a far more dangerous environment. The flip side is the days of open development and non spec cars that created situations where winners sometimes lapped the field. Not exactly compelling racing. As for Jimmie Johnson--I just lost most of the respect I had for him. I didn't here any open wheel drivers calling for NASCAR to go to strictly road courses when Dale Earnhardt died. I don't often agree with Anthony but this time he has it completely right
  • Boycott Lowes
    I think many of the finger-pointers on this thread completely missed the point. They are finger pointing...
    Jimmie Johnson's comments were insensitive and not appropriate, at this time. There is a time for finger pointing. This is not it.
    This is a time to mourn the loss of a truly great champion.
    There is plenty of time for the other later.
    As for me, I do not plan to shop at Lowe's, or use any of the other products that helps Jimmie Johnson do what he enjoys.
    Racing on any circuit has always been dangerous, and always will be. So is driving down any road or street in the world.
  • Nine YEars
    Nine years of data on this car....and there is surprise that someone got killed? There shouldn't be.

    Mario, IF the past 9 years contained significant change WHY do the problems of a flying flat bottomed car that has an incredible unbalance fore and aft, still allowed to crash and maim?

    This is the fear..that the Speedway will do NOTHING, just like the past nine years. Higher fences and softer walls don't count. The cars still fly with regularity....more than any series I have EVER scene. How come nothing has been done to correct it?
  • Damage Control
    I see the Speedway is taking a defensive approach today....saying that competitor and fan safety are 'paramount'. That's BS.

    Nine years....what has been done? Explain that for me. Tony Renna died in vain. All I ever heard was denial..."our car don't fly".

    I have NINE YEARS of photographs and videos that will prove otherwise....IMS is negligent in the dead of Dan Wheldon. They promoted danger and they got death. Just what they wanted?
  • In the Bizarro world of the .1rl, Safety = Carnage!
    Now they are claiming it's all about safety??? Does this sound like it's all about safety?


    "Promotional materials for the Las Vegas race on IndyCar's website predicted "the wildest race of the season" because the track was unusually "fast and smooth."

    "In the materials, one driver, Ryan Hunter-Reay, said, "All it takes is one mistake by one driver, and it could be huge consequences. This should be a nail-biter for the fans, and it's going to be insane for the drivers."

    Yes, it is insane when you throw 34 cars on a track that your own rulebook says can only handle 28, and good chunk of them driven by the inexperienced...

    "In an interview in June with the Globe and Mail newspaper, Mr. Bernard said the change to restarts would mean more "carnage and wrecks," adding that "danger will be an important element of the sport."

    Yes, Carnage, Wrecks and Danger are the backbone of the .1rl. That is, until the slogan "Safety first" is suggested by the defence lawyers. :roll:

  • wow
    That article listed above (from the Wall Street Journal) is the unvarnished, bare-knuckles truth. Can you believe sponsors, media outlets, and social media can see it?

    THIS is exactly what people feared for the sport...all because of inaction and negligence by the series.

    Please IMS, don't let this enter the history books as bookended footnotes....2003 - 2011, Renna and Wheldon deserve more than that. DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.
  • How many NASCAR stars
    are kicking themselves for not accepting the Vegas challenge
  • Amen
    Anthony, sometimes you really honk me off. Especially, when you write about racing. But, this article was one of your finest pieces I've ever read. Thank you for sharing some very well thought out sentiments.
  • zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
    Chief--your responses are so predictable I try to read them right before I go to bed as they put me to sleep. If these cars are so unsafe why do these highly intelligent drivers continue to drive them? Obviously you have not seen the many incredible wrecks that these drivers have walked away from. This is dangerous business. I certainly hope you don't waist your valuable time watching something that you have so much disdain for.
  • Who says they're intellegent?
    Remember, to be a race car driver you need to be a little stupid and have a bad memory. It appears you missed your calling.

    I know very well the dangers of the sport, the risks taken and the horrific results when it all goes wrong. I was at the corner where Helmuth Koinigg perished in 1974 USGP, I got a shocking lesson about the dangers of motor sport that day.

    October 22nd is the 8 year anniversary of Tony Renna's passing. Instead of blowing hot air Mario, tell me what has changed with regard to this car, this series and AOW sport in general since then? The cars still fly, they still cant get separation, and they still are the same cars.

    It's dangerous enough already, so, why make it more dangerous? IMS has yet to answer that question.

  • all open wheel racing is very dangerous
    all open wheel cars are very dangers on oval and on road course open cockpit safety cell in middle only glass is left glass bumper will not stop 1500 pound car driving 235mph hi jimmy johnson say something about henry surtees mite as well say ban f1
  • It's the IRL pack racing
    use tanks instead
  • were are new age racer
    cart distroy american open wheel with there road racing make large american like it help split the sport we only would be talking about great driver death and not have to listen to pre mo donna diva wwf taxi driver have to say
  • kudos to NASCAR
    They made a commitment to honor Dan. Lionheart stickers and a moment of silence before their next race.

    At least someone's doing something...
  • pack racing is the irl that truth
    irl pack racing and nascar pack racing are differant big one in indycar are rare every nascar plate race big one happen indycar hardly crash because cars handle so well it help safety if you look at in race safety last 10 years irl is safer than v8 supercars brazilian stock cars but everyone know from irl fans driver the league irl is most dangerous motorsport it was never a secret
    It's important that Dario reads this....

    Look, from a fans perspective, you are the lead driver and champion of the IRL/Indycars. It is your responsibility to represent your fellow drivers AND all the drivers that have sacrificed themselves for the sport to this point.

    That is a lofty job....I do not envy your position. However, we as fans have known the current Indycar to be a disaster since 2003...and you know it too. We fans will forgive your indiscretions for a sniff of justice today...

    So, going forward, will you represent the selfish interests of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway or will you honor the late Jim Clark, Sir Jackie Stewart, Greg Moore and Dan Wheldon in the quest for safety in the sport?

    Make it right Dario....make a stand and make sure it is transparent. The fans do not trust IMS. Eight years of data has proven that. Brian Barnhart MUST BE OUT. NO MORE SIDE BY SIDE CRAP. Braking in the corners is a must. We must find a way to separate the cars.

    It can be done, and you MUST DO IT. Otherwise the status-quo will kill....and the AOW sport. DO NOT LET THIS HAPPEN!
  • Common Sense Is Lacking
    Suggestion for critics who do not enjoy watching close oval racing: Don't watch. Simple. There are alternatives. Take advantage of them.
  • Alternatives indeed
    F1 is pushing into the USA market, and going to be racing in New York as well as Austin.
    You know, the F1 that was pretty much irrelevant in the USA when AOWR wasn't under the total control of the H/G clan. Well, now that AOWR has been made a total joke under the Indiana rule, F1 is going for the proverbial jugular. And I say, anything that means the death of the .1rl and the Indiana influence is good for AOWR and the world in general...
    Isn't it strange how people can find hundreds of millions of $$$ for new F1 races, but nobody can find a dime for the .1rl??? Yes, there are only so many roundy rounds that will rent out their facilities for the league that promotes Death Races. I believe you can scratch LVMS from that ever shrinking list...
    The H/G clan's scorched earth policy is reaping what's been sown. AOWR starves to death while NASCAR and F1 prosper and grow ever more popular.
  • Now that the dust has settled... took a death for the series to get some serious ink and air. Tragic as the loss is, Randy's perilous sport idea actually worked. That's quite the irony.
  • Disciple likes close racing
    There is only one alternative: study the crap design of these italian airplanes that the IRL uses.

    Disciple wants status-quo at Indy and the IRL. The coverup is underway...
  • Evolution
    I believe what we are witnessing is a profound evolution about to hit the sport of Indycar racing due the tragedy of Dan Wheldon.

    The form of oval racing that led to it is being brought into question by those outside and INSIDE auto racing. Some need to face that fact.

    In the drive for more attention, Indycar is getting all and maybe more than they wanted. Such is how things work in the real world. When we push too hard things have a way of pushing back and forcing change and righting the balance.

    But what is odd, how many Indy-based oval racing fans that consider themselves conservatives have trouble with people speaking their minds on the subject. It is the American way. We should celebrate it.

    It seems some are going to not like where that evolution and change might take them, but I guess they will either have to live with it, or go find some alternatives.
  • More F1
    I watched the press conference live on SPEED, and the course looks great. There's >200' in elevation change and the back drop will be great. They say no public money will be spent, so if true, F1 is cheaper on the taxpayers of NJ than the .1rl is on the taxpayers of Baltimore.
    They were asked about the safety, and they made sure to point out that these weren't indicars, and didn't just run flat out, constanly turning left, pack racing on ovals.
    Yes, the only mention the .1rl cars got, was in reference to their being dangerous. :lol:
  • Query For The Mature Contributors
    What is '.1rl?'
  • What is '.1rl?'
    that's is a combination of the Indy Racing League's Nielsen TV number and racing league. hence, .1rl
  • Oh, I See.
    How very mature and becoming of racing fans.
  • Selective Arguments
    I have been gone for a week hiking the backcountry and I see that nobody has been attending their anger management classes. Chief-You say NASCAR is the only one doing anything for Dan Wheldon by putting stickers on their cars. That was a nice touch as I would have expected everyone in the racing community to do something of this nature. What do you call the real time decision to cancel the balance of the Vegas race and do a a 5 lap salute to Dan. That was one of the more moving things I have ever watched. Lots of touch decisions had to be made under fire. They got it right. You also call on Dario to do something in the memory of Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart and Greg Moore like the Indpls Motor Speeedway and the current chassis killed them. You really know how to string your arguments together don't you? I don't recall Jackie Stewart dieing in a crash at Indy? Jim Clark was my favorite driver at the time of his untimely death. I don't recall IMS contributing to that conspiracy? Same with Greg Moore. RACING IS DANGEROUS!! I have watched live every form of racing known to mankind and thoroughly enjoy each in their own way. The Indianapolis 500 is still the most exhilirating raceing event out there bar none
  • You don't get outside
    Marion County, Indiana much do you

    More street parades than ovals in 2012. Good work gomers. You have made the past 16 years all worth while.

Post a comment to this blog

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by