Jimmie Johnson sympathizes with teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR's most popular driver now sidelined for at least the next two weeks due to a concussion.
"It's something that athletes are faced with," Johnson said Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. "Whether it is hockey, football or any contact sport, you have to know if you're right. And even if you are right, you have to know when to seek medical advice. ... The process after a crash is far more extensive in regards to safety attention than what it ever was in the past."
Johnson understands the pitfalls of dangerous concussions. He suffered a major accident at Watkins Glen in 2000 when his brakes failed at the end of a long straightaway. Johnson's car never stopped, skipping over the gravel trap and slamming nose first into the wall at full-speed.
While Johnson immediately jumped out of the car and celebrated his apparent near-injury survival, the lasting effects were felt much later.
Johnson recounted driving home after that race, getting on the interstate driving north for several miles until he realized he had intended to go south. He blamed the harmless gaffe on his disorientation -- the lingering aftereffects of the accident and eventually made it home.
"While (the effects) went away after a day or two, it just goes to show you that concussions affect everyone differently," Johnson said.
Meanwhile, Johnson is still in the hunt for a sixth Sprint Cup Series championship, trailing leader Brad Keselowski by 14 points with six races remaining.In the past, Charlotte has been a track where Johnson has dominated - including a win in this May's All-Star Challenge.
In 33 total starts on the 1.5-mile oval (including the non-points All-Star event) Johnson has an average finish of 10th and has nine victories overall. As such, the five-time champ sees Charlotte as an opportunity to make up lost ground following a 17th-place finish at Talladega.
For Johnson, Charlotte is the ultimate home-field advantage.
"It's good to be home," Johnson said. "We want to run well here. It's a home field for most everyone here."
The top three championship leaders have separated themselves from the rest of the contenders with third-place Denny Hamlin stalking in third, 23 points out. With that said, Johnson isn't counting anyone out, citing three other Cup Champions in the field (Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart).
"To me, I kind of look at veterans," Johnson said. "I would put Jeff Gordon up in there. I've always said this too. Guys that have won championships, I always see first. I would have expected Tony to be up there a little higher too at this point. So, it's nothing against Keselowski by any means, but the way my mind works, when you get into these 10 races and the pressure really kicks-in, I first look at previous champions and then guys that have been there in the fire. Denny (Hamlin) has been in the fire... But that's where my mind goes first."
"Anything can happen in the Chase."