By: Ashley McCubbin
Last year, Jimmie Johnson spent the Indianapolis 500 watching it on the sidelines alongside former Hendrick Motorsports mate Steve LeTarte. Just mere laps into the event, he told the NBC Sports Commentator, “I want in.”
The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series Champion will get the chance to this year, set to run the full NTT IndyCar Series schedule. This comes after running just the street / road courses in 2021.
“I’m just eager to get more oval experience to try to sense and understand the car,” he commented. “I feel like I’ll be much more competitive on the ovals, and the faster I can learn the cars and sensations and adjustments, the better my chances will be at a podium or better yet.”
Johnson knows what it takes to get done on ovals, as evident by his NASCAR experience. The familiar feel from there was something he experienced during pre-season testing, just faster now.
“As the Texas test session wore on, we started making adjustments to the car, and again, I was surprised how those — I knew how those adjustments felt in a stock car and I wasn’t sure if they would feel the same in an INDYCAR, and they did,” he expressed. “A lot of hope from those two test sessions that I had on the ovals.”
The hope goes beyond that, as Johnson previously talked about the increase of confidence with having a season under his belt.
“I think my performance at the end of the year suggests and really reflects, I guess, probably better to say reflects the learning that I did over the course of the season,” he explained. “To add to that, we had two races on the INDYCAR Road Course, and from race one to race two, my comfort level was four or five times more than it was the first go-around.
“Very excited for year number two. There will be some new circuits for me. I have not been to Toronto yet, the ovals, some of them — Iowa I’ve never been to oddly enough. I didn’t run the Xfinity car there or anything, so that will be another new track for me.
“Excited to get back. Second time around at a track, to know the nuances of the track, to have notes to work off of, to have video to work off of, those things really make a big difference.”
As to what is to come beyond 2022, nothing is in stone formally, but Johnson is enjoying the challenge right now.
“I also feel like the more reps I get, the more years that I’m around, the better my performance will be,” he commented. “I certainly want to run better and be more competitive on road and street courses. But on the oval journey, I think I will perform better and look better, run better. In a year or two of oval races, I might be able to be an INDYCAR winner, and that would ultimately be the goal to pull that off.
“There are a lot of steps between now and announcing or getting that done, but I feel like Chip is open to it. I know the team, other members of the team, everybody would be really excited to have me back another year. All the wonderful people at Carvana and their involvement, if I’ve had a lot of fun in the INDYCAR Series, I think there’s only one group that’s had more fun, and that’s been them. They’ve really enjoyed their experience, been welcomed into the sport really well.
“Long story short, there’s still a lot of work to be done, but my intent is to try to return in ’23. Or ’24 or ’25, whatever. 50-year-old INDYCAR driver out there. I did read that Mario won his final race at 53, so that gives me a lot of hope.”
Categories: NTT IndyCar Series