LONG POND, Pa. – Rocketing toward the wall at high speed and without any brakes, Jimmie Johnson’s wild ride at Pocono Raceway lasted roughly 4 to 5 seconds but felt like “4 to 5 minutes.
“It was forever,” the seven-time series champion said.
Yet there was only enough time to think one thing.
“Just a huge, ‘Oh, s—!’ ” Johnson said with a smile outside the care center Sunday afternoon after being checked out from a heavy impact that resulted in a 23-minute red flag. “It doesn’t really go any further than that. You’re just like, ‘Wow, this is really going to hurt.’ Then it ended up being soft, and I was like, ‘OK, didn’t expect that.’ You can’t think about much, but ‘Oh s—!’ definitely entered my mind.”
The Hendrick Motorsports driver radioed his team that he “got away with one there” after the brake failure in the first turn on Lap 96. The impact seemed nearly as wicked as Johnson’s head-on crash into a tire barrier at Watkins Glen International during the 2000 Xfinity Series race.
Johnson triumphantly raised his arms after that wreck, but this time, he climbed from his No. 48 Chevrolet and sat against the wall with his arms folded while reflecting on the accident.
Though he wasn’t hurt – “no sore spots, no aches, I feel fine” – he still was shook up after having no warning his brakes were fading before his pedal suddenly went to the floor.
“I just needed a minute,” said Johnson, who speculated the failure was caused by overheating. “I thought it was going to be a lot worse than that. To have it turn out where I just scared myself, I just needed to sit down and catch my breath.”
Hendrick teammate Kasey Kahne later crashed with a brake failure.
After the Watkins Glen crash, Johnson told himself he would turn right toward the wall to mitigate such an impact the next time, but instincts still caused him to veer left. He did manage to slam the shifter into third gear and caught the grass, helping slide the car into a slightly more gentle rear-end hit.
Just behind Johnson’s wreck, Jamie McMurray lost the brakes in his No. 1 Chevrolet in Turn 1 just seconds later.
“It was really weird it happened at the exact same time as (Johnson),” McMurray said. “We both turned left, and we probably should have turned toward the wall instead of making it a bigger impact.”
His car caught fire while slowing to a stop along the inside barrier, causing McMurray to yank the air-conditioning hose from his helmet and scramble out of the cockpit with the car rolling.
“I wanted to get out faster and didn’t realize I was moving while getting out,” McMurray said. “It’s amazing how crazy hot it gets inside the car.
“I threw the steering wheel on the dash, and it bounced back and got my legs pinned. I couldn’t get out for a second, and I went from trying not to panic to full-blown panic to get out.”
Johnson could relate to the emotions.
“It gets your attention when you don’t have control of the car like that,” he said. “So now I’ll go change my underwear and head home.”