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Jimmie Johnson attacking move to INDYCAR.

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Photo: Chris Owens/INDYCAR

INDIANAPOLIS, IN (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing’s Jimmie Johnson is attacking his first year in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES with the work ethic you would expect of a Champion.

Johnson is two races into his INDYCAR career and each week presents a new challenge to the veteran racer.

“There’s just many new things,” Johnson told Pittsburgh Racing Now. “A tire I’ve not been on. A circuit I’ve not been on. There’s just so many new things it feels like I am starting all over again.”

What Johnson is trying to do, transitioning from the big and heavy stock cars to a more powerful but lighter INDYCAR, reminds some sports fans of the time NBA Hall-of-famer Michael Jordan played baseball.

Johnson’s CGR teammate, six-time and reigning series Champion, Scott Dixon explained that what Johnson is doing would be like Dixon picking up his golf clubs and trying to go and win ‘The Masters’.

“Jimmie’s learning curve is very steep and very aggressive,” said Dixon. “Probably one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen of anybody trying to do in sport. For him, he’s having to un-learn 20-plus years of what he was doing. I think his work ethic and attention to detail, we’re just going to have to give him some time to get comfortable.”

With a couple of races under his belt Johnson explained to Pittsburgh Racing Now what he’s looking for to go faster.

“Finding the edge,” said Johnson. “Finding it safely and consistently and that edge of grip and traction is two-to-three times what I’ve experienced in a NASCAR vehicle, so I keep reaching and occasionally I reach in the wrong areas but I keep reaching and trying to find it and I’m getting closer.”

Johnson is bringing his legendary work ethic to INDYCAR, spending countless hours trying to shorten his learning curve, impressing team owner Chip Ganassi.

“He’s a damn, hard worker,” said Ganassi. “He’s set the bar at a new level for the amount of work a driver puts in. He’s always in the simulator, on the computer, on the phone, making calls, asking questions, working out, talking to sponsors, talking to the team. The guy doesn’t slow down. I had no idea what I was up against racing against him in NASCAR. Now I got little feel for it. He’s a hard worker. My hats off to him.”

Ganassi knows there will be up and downs but isn’t setting any expectations for the seven-time NASCAR champ.

“I think some podiums would be considered a success,” said Ganassi. “He has the talent, he has the race craft. Once we get him comfortable I think the racer will come out in him.”

Three Rivers Karting

Johnson is sharing the No. 48 with 2004 INDYCAR Champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan.  Johnson will drive the road and street circuit and Kanaan will drive the oval races.

“We knew it was going to be hard,” said Kanaan of Johnson’s move to INDYCAR. “I think he’s trying to learn as quick as he can. As competitive as he is, he’s trying to go as fast as he can and sometimes mistakes happen. I think after the mistakes he’s been pretty solid.  He finished both races and he was getting a lot quicker towards the end of both races.”

Johnson’s transition is just like when open wheel Champions Dario Franchitti, Juan Pablo Montoya and Sam Hornish Jr climbed into stock cars.

“Some of the drivers had a hard time when they made the switch from INDYCAR to NASCAR,” said Kanaan. “That proves that INDYCAR is tough as well.”

Off the track Johnson has had success bringing a new sponsor, online automotive retailer Carvana, into the sport. What’s even more impressive is that he brought a new sponsor into the sport in the middle of a global pandemic.

“We were out working hard trying to find a sponsor through all the traditional means,” explained Johnson. “Literally through my wife (Chandra) and some friends in Oklahoma that she grew up in and around, led me to a phone call with Ernie Garcia (CEO) from Carvana. He instantly had a vision of the transition I’m trying to make and could grasp it.”

Carvana has embraced joining the sport and is not wasting any time activating the partnership with Johnson and the Ganassi team.

“Although he’s (Garcia) new to motorsport and they’ve never sponsored anything in auto racing, he could see this opportunity crystal clear,” said Johnson. “Very thankful to bring a new sponsor in and how they are activating is second to none and I’m really excited about the relationship.”

Part of Carvana’s activation is giving fans the opportunity to pick the color schemes that Johnson will campaign at various races by visiting their website and casting a vote: www.carvana.com/racing/indy/vote.

Attracting a new sponsor to your first year competing in the highest form of open wheel racing in the United States may surprise some people but those who know Jimmie Johnson aren’t surprised at all.

“He’s relentless,” said Kanaan. “He’s the type of guy, he’s going to make this work. I wouldn’t count Jimmie Johnson out just yet.”

Johnson and the No. 48 Carvana Honda return to the track with the GMR Grand Prix, May 15 on the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

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Josef Newgarden tops first INDYCAR practice as Laguna Seca

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Penske Entertainment: James Black

MONTEREY, CA (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden is starting INDYCAR Championship weekend off on the right pedal by leading the first NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice session on Friday.

Newgarden’s No. 2 Hitachi Chevy turned a fast lap of 1 minute, 11.4103 seconds (112.824 mph) around the 11-turn, 2.238-mile road course circuit with Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta second-quickest at 1:11:8266 (112.170) in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda.

“Yeah, just a tricky session,” noted Newgarden. “There was a lot of people going off, there was a lot of dirt on the track, so it was quite difficult to put it together. So not a very straightforward session. But I think very productive in a lot of ways. It’s not a lot of running, and you’re trying to make the most use of just a couple runs, and I felt like we did that, so I was happy about that.”

Championship-leader Will Power was 7th quickest, 1:11:9858 (111.922) in the No. 12 Verizon Chevy.  Power leads Newgarden and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon by 20-points heading into Sunday’s season finale.

“Tough track, man,” said Power. “Very low grip. You get one lap on tires, and they’re gone. It’s hard to get a read because the car changes so much over a run.”

Three Rivers Karting

Championship contender Marcus Ericsson was tenth fastest in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda at 1:12:0803 (111.775) and trails Power by ??-points in the title fight.

“I’m hoping it’s going to be a high-deg (tire degradation) race, and it seems to be that way,” said Ericsson. “Usually our team and myself from my experience, we’re usually pretty good at that. Yeah, the tires seemed to degrade quite quickly here. It was the same in the test and the same today in practice.”

Last weekend’s winner Scott McLaughlin was next in line with a 1:12:0877 (111.764). McLaughlin has an outside shot at the title as he sits ??-points behind Power.

Dixon, the six-time series Champion, was 17th in the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda at 1:12:3911 (111.295) despite a team test at the track a few weeks ago.

“It’s going to be a pretty high-deg  race, man,” said Dixon, who can tie INDYCAR Legend A.J. Foyt for all-time Championships with a seventh.

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Determined drive by Scott Dixon in Portland earns podium and shot at 7th Championship

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Penske Entertainment: James Black

PORTLAND, OR (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon is in the fight for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES Championship after a third place finish in Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland.

Dixon entered the race in third-place in the Championship fight, 14-points behind Team Penske’s Will Power and 11-points behind Power’s teammate Josef Newgarden.  Dixon leaves Portland tied with Newgarden but Power finished ahead of both and now sits 20-points ahead going into the season finale on Sunday at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca.

“Yeah, you know, still in it,” said Dixon. “That’s all that we can hope for.”

Dixon started the race from the 16th position after failing to advance out of the first round of knockout-style qualifying on Saturday.  Qualifying has been a bit of an ‘Achilles heel’ for the No. 9 this season.

“We’ve got to work on qualifying and stop making it so difficult on us,” reflected Dixon, who gained more positions (+13) than anyone in the field from the start to finish of the race. “The car was fantastic in Q1 on the box. Didn’t expect too much of a change and thought we would have converted easy and didn’t even make it. We have to stop doing these most improved days, for sure. It’s not that much fun.”

Dixon opened the race on the less-grippy Firestone primary tires while the majority of those starting ahead of him started on the stickier Firestone alternate tires and quickly moved up a couple of spots before being one of the first to come to pit road for his first pit stop on Lap 13.

Dixon’s No. 9 ‘Wolfpack’ crew swapped out the primary tires for the alternate tires, topped the PNC Bank Honda off with fuel and sent the six-time series Champion back out into the fight where he put his foot down and continued to gain positions as various strategies started playing out.

Dixon’s second to last pit-stop saw his crew put on used alternate Firestones, setting him up for new alternate tires for his final pit stop.  Dixon was chasing Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi for fifth place when CGR Managing Director and Dixon’s strategist Mike Hull called him to pit road for the last time.

“We had to use a lot of overtake early on, so that definitely changed things up, I think, for the strategy towards the final five there,” said Dixon. “Had a tricky moment with the 10 car coming in front of us in the pit, which kind of screwed us a bit as well, and lost a position that we should have got on Rossi, which was frustrating.”

Three Rivers Karting

Dixon’s frustration was short-lived as the caution came out on Lap 84 when Rinus VeeKay misjudged a pass on Dixon’s teammate Jimmie Johnson, pinching the No. 48 Carvana Honda into the wall ending Johnson’s day.

The 4-lap caution period set-up a restart with Scott McLaughlin leading Power, Pato O’Ward, Newgarden, Rossi and Dixon as the green flag dropped.  McLaughlin got a great start and Power settled in behind his teammate when O’Ward made an ambitious move trying to pass Power in Turn 1. It didn’t work.

“Yeah, he sent it straight into me,” Power explained. “I left as much room as I could. Inside, inside, and I kept going further, and, bam, he hit me over the curve. I didn’t expect it from Pato, though. He is usually a pretty good racer, pretty smart racer. He was probably needing to win the race to have a shot at the championship, so he probably just went a little bit too far.”

Turn 1 usually produces some memorable highlights at Portland and this restart was no different as right behind the Power/O’Ward tussle, Newgarden and Rossi got together opening the door for Dixon, who didn’t hesitate to take advantage.

“I think when I saw Josef break I was, like, ‘Wow, I’m not sure if he is going to make the corner,'” said Dixon. “He did all that he could to make the corner, but put him at a weird angle, and that, obviously, offset him and Rossi because Rossi had a great run on him out of 12 into turn one. Then, got a great exit.”

Dixon turned hard left, avoided that calamity, and carried the momentum through the turn and set his sights on O’Ward, who was still gaining speed after hitting Power and made a reactionary move to Dixon’s passing attempt, which is a violation of INDYCAR rules.

“I got a run on Pato, and he put a pretty big block on, and a lap later IndyCar called that, and I was able to get past, which thankfully I think the front three, we pulled a ten-second gap on the next pack where we pulled away really quickly,” said Dixon. “It was a great restart. Something that definitely helped us on the points side, and we’ll take what we can.”

Dixon set his sights on Power and was able to get within a second of the No. 12 Chevy but wasn’t able to challenge for the second spot on the podium.

“We did as much as we could today,” said Dixon.  “All in all, I think the team did a great job today. Yeah, we’ll see. See what comes next week. I think it’s pretty cool that we don’t need any resets or any chase championships or anything like that. It always comes down to the wire in the INDYCAR Series.”

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Ganassi’s Alex Palou won’t repeat as INDYCAR Champion

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Chip Ganassi Racing

PORTLAND, OR (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou’s hopes of repeating as NTT INDYCAR SERIES Champion is over after Palou was mathematically eliminated after his 12th-place finish in Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland.

Palou stated the race in the fourth position on Firestone alternate red sidewall tires and ran in the Top 5 through the first stint of the race.  Palou however radioed the No. 10 Ridgeline Lubricants crew during the second stint that something was wrong with the rear of the car.  Palou was on the less-grippy, black sidewall Firestone tires.

Three Rivers Karting

“Starting fourth, we were running okay in the beginning and then lost a bit of pace,” said Palou. “We’ll check on what went on today and recover next week in Laguna. We still have one race to go, and we will try to win it.”

Palou’s sits 66-points behind championship leader Will Power going into the season finale next Sunday at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

Palou’s teammates Scott Dixon and Marcus Ericsson remain in the title fight with Dixon tied for second place, 20-points behind Power and Ericsson 39-points out of the top spot.

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