Open-wheel saw a new player on the scene this year– one who is far more used to a stock car shell — as it welcomed Jimmie Johnson to the IndyCar ovals.
Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson returned to Texas Motor Speedway the final Monday in August, but not with a roof over his head. Instead, he was taking his first oval-track laps in an Indy car, the No. 48 Carvana Honda-powered Chip Ganassi Racing entry he’s been driving on road and street courses since the start of the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series season.
Starting at sunrise, with his full complement of crew members that included team advisor Dario Franchitti, the four-time INDYCAR champion and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner, his current teammate, the six-time and reigning series champion Scott Dixon and Eric Cowdin, Johnson’s highly successful race engineer, the Californian attempted to forget anything he’d ever known about the high-banked 1.5-mile oval track he’s raced dozens of times and learn how to wheel the projectile he currently races.
He noted these team members’ “willingness to help me get up to speed” has been exceptional in his learning curve, not just at Texas Motor Speedway, but throughout the season on the road and street courses. “Today is my first step towards racing the Indianapolis 500 and racing an Indy car on ovals,” Johnson said. From this test he and the team need to look and see whether they need to test at another oval prior to the 2022 season start.
This was necessarily a private test to acclimate Johnson with his totally different ride and to make him comfortable at the much higher speeds and cornering loads reached in an Indy car. The lines are different; all aspects of the track feel different from the large, heavy NASCAR Cup Series cars he’s driven in his successful career. “I need to pretend like I’ve never been here before and then, after some laps, pull up things from my NASCAR days,” to see how they translate.
Johnson noted the “similarities between driving this track in both NASCAR and INDYCAR” race cars once his test was completed. He was glad to have his first oval test at a track he knew so well. “The way you attack the track is very similar to my NASCAR days. The pace of the car, obviously is a lot higher and I had to adjust my sight-lines” with the much quicker machine. “The lateral G forces are pretty high compared to what I’m used to,” he said.
“The way you use the banking to settle the car is much more critical in an Indy car than it is in NASCAR, and the line is a bit more forgiving in the Cup car as a result.” Knowing the history of Indy cars at Texas Motor Speedway, Johnson recalled that speeds can get so high that drivers can lose consciousness, referring to the Champ Car race that never occurred for just that reason. Still, he found the exercise worth his while and, if his family and partners give the okay, it looks like a full, 2022 NTT IndyCar Series season for Jimmie Johnson.