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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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Alex Palou survives Turn 1 melee to win Grand Prix of Portland

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Chris Owens/INDYCAR

PORTLAND, OR (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou survived a first lap incident heading into Portland International Raceway’s first turn and came back to win Sunday’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES Grand Prix of Portland.

The victory was the third of the season for Palou, who regained the Championship points lead with the victory.

“It was massive,” Palou said of the victory. “I don’t think that much about the three wins or two wins. I think that’s important but not super. What I think is important is that even having a really bad start of the race, we were able to fight.”

Palou started on the pole position and was leading the field down the frontstretch with Alexander Rossi to his left in second place and Scott Dixon behind him to Palou’s inside in third when fourth-starting Felix Rosenqvist carried too much speed into the first turn. As Rosenqvist took evasive action he made contact with Dixon, which prevented the six-time series Champion from making turn one.  Dixon went straight through the runoff area but that move prevented Palou and Rossi from making the turn too.

“I filled that gap because I figured Rahal or somebody was going to try and scoot down the inside of us,” explained Dixon. “I bailed out of it and then got hit from behind, I think it was Felix (Rosenqvist), and that caused a bit of an interesting moment for all of us on the start there.”

All four drivers went through the runoff area and rejoined the field however more turn one chaos was happening behind them as several drivers made contact or were forced to take evasive action to avoid contact bringing out the caution flag.  Among the drivers sustaining damage were Helio Castroneves, James Hinchcliffe, Will Power, Romain Grosjean and Oliver Askew.

INDYCAR race control penalized Palou, Rossi, Dixon and Rosenqvist and sent them to the back of the field for not taking the first turn, which mystified the drivers.

“I got hit at some point,” said Palou. “I knew Scott was on the inside, so I couldn’t really go there, so I knew I had to go through the chicane. I made it through the chicane, and I said, ‘okay, I only lost like five positions’, which is a lot, but I said, ‘at least I’m not out’. And then INDYCAR decided that that was not penalizing enough, and they put me in the back, which I don’t know what they want me to do at that point. Do they prefer me to like completely stop the car and make that corner, making the race unsafe?”

Three Rivers Karting

“It was just the craziest thing I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been in racing a little while,” explained Dixon. “I don’t know what they (race control) were thinking or how that came about, but put all of us at the back the field. Be interesting to go talk to them later and see how they came up with that scenario.”

“I thought it was pretty low grip in Turn 1 when Felix, I guess — when Scott and Alex and them kind of slid through, I didn’t really have anywhere to go, and I thought if we got back to the styrofoam chicane, that was acceptable,” said Rossi. “But it was self-penalizing because we all went from like first, second, third to sixth, seventh, eighth, and then they’re like, ‘oh, you’re going to 24th’. It was like, okay, cool.  But fortunately it all came around.”

INDYCAR rules state that cars avoiding the collision and remaining on the racing surface at the timing lines embedded in the track through the chicane are placed at the front of the field on the restart, with drivers avoiding the collision but leaving the racetrack placed behind them, followed by drivers involved in the incident.

The reshuffling of the field and subsequent restart saw Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward, who was leading the Championship by 10-points coming into the weekend, take the early lead with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal right behind in second place.  Those two remained out front until their first round of pit stops.

The second caution flag came out on lap 52 when rookie Callum Ilott and Dalton Kellett both slowed on different parts of the track.  Several drivers elected to pit for service but Rahal elected to stay out and led until Lap 74, when he and second-place Ed Jones pitted to hand the lead to Jack Harvey.

Pit stop strategy eventually worked out in the favor of Palou, Rossi and Dixon. Palou, who made his final stop on Lap 79, one lap before teammate Dixon, took the lead for good on Lap 86 and survived two late restarts and was able to hold off Rossi and Dixon for the win.

Two races remain in the season-long championship, WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca and the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, where the 2021 Champion will be crowned.

“Clearly we are in the fight,” said Palou of his Championship chances. “But I think until Long Beach we are not going to know really who’s what. I think that many people today after the first lap thought that Pato was going to win and that we were going to lose 40 points, and it was the opposite. That’s why INDYCAR is INDYCAR, which is really good. I think that makes the racing super exciting and the championship super exciting until the end.”

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Alex Palou wins INDYCAR Portland Grand Prix pole position

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Joe Skibinski

PORTLAND, OR (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou is on the pole position for Sunday’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES Grand Prix of Portland.  The P1 Pole Award is the first of Palou’s INDYCAR career.

Palou’s fast lap of 58.7701-seconds (120.306 mph) in the No. 10 PNC Bank Honda was 0.08-seconds faster than Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi fast lap of 58.8573-seconds (120.128) in the No. 27 Honda and 0.09-seconds faster than his CGR teammate Scott Dixon in the No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda (58.8673/120.107).

“I’m super happy with my first pole in INDYCAR,” Palou said. “We’re starting on the best position tomorrow, and we know we have a really fast car. I cannot wait for tomorrow’s race.”

Palou also earns a valuable Championship point in his quest to win his first series title. Palou entered the weekend 10-points behind Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward thanks in part to Palou’s two worst finishes of the season, a 27th at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course following an engine failure and 20th at World Wide Technology Raceway after being taken out in a crash.

Three Rivers Karting

“We all know that the last two race weekends we had, it was out of our control,” said Palou. “So, we’re fully laser-focused on these three races we have to get that championship home, and we’ll try to get that.”

Championship leader O’Ward qualified seventh in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet after being eliminated by teammate Rosenqvist by .0103 of a second on the last lap of the second qualifying session.

Two-time series champion Josef Newgarden sits third in the Championship standings, 22 points behind O’Ward, and will start 18th in the 27-car field in the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet after all of the Penske team failed to advance past the first round of qualifying for the first time this season.

The 110-lap race on the 12-turn, 1.964-mile road course starts at 3 p.m. (ET) Sunday, live on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network.

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Racing journalist and Motorsports Hall of Famer Robin Miller dies at 71

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Photo: Joe Skibinski/INDYCAR

INDIANAPOLIS, IN (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Legendary racing journalist and Motorsports Hall of Famer Robin Miller is dead at the age of 71.

In a July 31, 2021 story on Racer.com titled ‘MILLER: A letter to the RACER Nation’, Miller said in his own inimitable style, “when cancer and leukemia decide to gang up on you then everything changes, and you are suddenly lining up in a heat race with The Grim Reaper. Might be a 50-lapper, could be an enduro or you might get lucky and run for a year or two.”

A trip to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with his father Bob in 1957, followed by a trip to his first “500” two years later, began a 50-year relationship with the sport and the iconic racetrack.

In 1968 Miller began working, or “stooging” as he called it, for one of his racing heroes Jim Hurtubise.  His career as a mechanic not long after it started when he ruined part of the paint on the race car.

Two week’s later, Miller’s career began at The Indianapolis Star where he did everything from answering phones to taking box score information to covering the Indiana Pacers.

Miller joked to us in 2019 that it was his inability as a mechanic and driver that led him down the path of sportswriter and broadcaster.

The driving part begin in the early 1970’s when Miller bought a Formula Ford from Andy Granatelli. Two years later, Miller purchased a midget from Gary Bettenhausen to ignite a 10-year run as a USAC competitor.

The experience as a competitor as well as a healthy respect for the men and women who worked on the cars fueled Miller’s ability to tell stories from the cockpit to the pit box to pit road.

Miller was renowned for his ability to break a story long before anybody else on the INDYCAR beat as well as his unfiltered opinion on the sport he loved deeply.

Three Rivers Karting

The Star fired Miller in 2001. The Star claimed Miller violated its ethics policy.  Many in the garage area and paddock felt it was Miller’s criticism of former Speedway owner Tony George’s decision to start the Indy Racing League (IRL) and the two decade long open wheel split George created, that didn’t sit well with management.

Miller was quickly snatched up bu ESPN, then SPEED and most recently NBC Sports and Racer.com.

Ironically it was Miller who broke the story of open wheel reunification in 2008 as well as Tony George’s ouster from control of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway by his family.  And those are just two of hundred’s of stories Miller broke that left others in the paddock wondering how in the world he knew!

In 2019 Miller was honored by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, who created the ‘Robin Miller Award’ to be given annually to an “unheralded individual who has brought unbridled passion and an unrelenting work ethic to enrich the sport.” Last month at the INDYCAR/NASCAR Doubleheader at IMS, he was inducted into the Motorsport Hall of Fame.

Tributes quickly came pouring in over social media as news of Miller’s death spread through the racing world.

Miller, a lifelong bachelor, is survived by a sister, Diane, and nieces Emily and Ashley.

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