Jimmie Johnson is taking the blame for one of the scariest moments of his career when his steering wheel came off during NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying.

The six-time series champion takes responsibility for the removable steering wheel not being on tight enough Friday night. He thanks the recent safety improvements that left him unscathed despite slamming into the wall at full speed at Phoenix International Raceway.

Johnson says he pulled on the wheel and it came off in his hands on the second lap of the final round of qualifying. He glanced down and saw the steering column spinning, knew he couldn't put it back and was, in his words, "totally helpless and along for the ride."

Johnson says he's immediately changing his pre-race routine to make sure the steering wheel is tight.