Jimmie Johnson appeared on Dan Patrick's radio show on Friday in advance of the Bristol race, and made a rather surprising statement: that NASCAR, as it is today, is safer than the NFL.
When asked point-blank if NASCAR was safer than the NFL (at about 7:15 of the video above), Johnson paused, then came down on the side of his sport:
"I think it is," he said. "We have fewer broken bones, fewer injuries. I'm very thankful that NASCAR has worked very hard to create this safety." He did note that the risk "switches over" at lower levels of racing, but at the highest level, the drivers are very safe.
On its face, it would seem an absurd argument; driving cars 200 mph seems inherently less safe than running into someone at about 10 to 15 mph. But the NFL is in the midst of a crisis over the validity and extent of concussions, and NASCAR has spent the last decade-plus focused on ways to make drivers more safe. As this year's dramatic wreck involving Kyle Larson at Daytona demonstrated, in many cases the safest place to be in an accident is within the vehicle itself.
NASCAR has had its issues with head injuries, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. receiving a concussion during a wreck at Talladega last year and several other drivers saying they have suffered, at times, from concussion-related symptoms. Still, Johnson contended that was a rarity rather than a regular occurrence.
"The contact that our heads make is with other big pieces of foam," Johnson noted. "We are not making head-to-head contact with a 300-pound guy running at us." He added that the interior walls of the car and the SAFER barriers around the track have contributed to a safe environment.
Johnson also talked about the tragic yet honorary origin of his first name, the restrictions on his off-track activities, and the differences between day and night driving. As usual, it was a fine media performance by NASCAR's five-time champion.
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