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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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Pato O’Ward wins INDYCARs race two in Detroit

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Joe Skibinski

DETROIT, MI (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward passed Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden with three laps-to-go to win Sunday’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Race 2 on the temporary street circuit on Belle Isle.

“I have a lot of faith in myself whenever the car is wiggling around,” said O’Ward. “I know I’m very strong on cold tires, so I took advantage of it, got by people and got her done.”

The 24-hours of the island were certainly a battle for the team, who saw a frightening crash in race one on Saturday that sent teammate Felix Rosenqvist to the hospital Saturday night for observation.

“When you see something like that happen to a race driver, it puts your stomach in your throat,” said Taylor Kiel, President Arrow McLaren SP. “First of all, we’re happy that Felix is okay and he’ll be back with us soon. Certainly bringing home a victory was top of mind in trying to help Felix’s recovery a little bit, but man, what a great effort from everybody, certainly from the men and women on the 7 car to get that thing fixed and ready to compete today. But also the men and women on the 5 car, to make it a race-winning car. We had a great car today. Pato did what he needed to do. The team did what they needed to do. And when you execute like that, we’re tough to beat.”

Newgarden led a race-high 67-laps on Sunday and was obviously not happy.

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“Just kind of was what it was there at the end,” said Newgarden. “Felt like we had a good car and just didn’t work our way strategy-wise and some of the times that we had to pit where we thought we had to pit because a yellow was probably going to come out, I think it all just didn’t play into our favor.”

The win also vaulted O’Ward into the Championship points lead as he is the only repeat winner of 2021.

O’Ward leads Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou by one point, 299-298, and Scott Dixon (263) by 36-points.

The next race is the REV Group Grand Prix presented by AMR on Sunday, June 20 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, with live coverage starting at noon (ET) on NBCSN and the INDYCAR Radio Network. On-track action starts with practice at 5:15 p.m. Friday, June 18, streamed live on Peacock.

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Chip Ganassi Racing’s Marcus Ericsson scores first career INDYCAR series win Saturday in Detroit

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Chris Owens/INDYCAR

DETROIT, MI (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Chip Ganassi Racing’s Marcus Ericsson has been knocking on the door of victory the past two seasons but even he couldn’t have imagined how his first win would unfold.

Ericsson held off Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay and Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward over a three-lap shootout to win Race 1 of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit on the temporary street circuit on Belle Isle.

Ericsson was running second in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Honda, chasing Team Penske’s Will Power, when the caution flag flew on lap 65 for Romain Grosjean, who made contact with the wall in Turn 9.  INDYCAR officials decided to red-flag the race and sent the cars to pit road.

Later when officials restarted the race, Power’s car would not re-fire on pit road.  Power’s crew frantically tried to get the No. 15 Verizon 5G Chevrolet restarted and while they worked Ericsson inherited the lead.

“Unfortunately he (Power) had that problem, which I feel bad for him,” said Ericsson. “He did a great job today. But we’ve had some bad luck these last couple years. I felt like it was about time we had some good luck, so I’ll take it.”

Ericsson didn’t hesitate when the green flag waved, taking off with VeeKay and O’Ward giving chase.  Ericsson held off two of the series first-time winners to become the seventh different winner in seven races, tying a record set in 2017.

“Just had to finish it off with clean restart and clean laps,” said Ericsson. “I think I did a really good restart, then just control it till the end.”

Power was livid that the Series decided to red flag the race and the procedure employed when the cars hit pit road.

Three Rivers Karting

O’Ward understood Power’s frustration.

“I understand they want to end on green,” said O’Ward. “I bet you if I was Will, I’d be telling you no. I feel for him, man. The guy, I’m pretty sure he was the one leading. I think he would have walked away with it if it didn’t go red. It really sucks.”

The late red flag was the second of the race.  The first red flag came on lap 24 when Arrow SP’s Felix Rosenqvist had a throttle stick sending the car into the wall at turn 6 full throttle.

Rosenqvist was shaken-up but was awake and alert in the infield care center.  Rosenqvist was sent to the hospital for observation overnight.  The track barrier sustained damage and the red flag lasted one hour, 18-minutes.

Ericsson’s CGR teammates came into the race 1-2 in the season-long Championship standing with Alex Palou leading Scott Dixon by 36-points.

Palou finished 15th in the No. 10 American Legion Honda and Dixon brought home the No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda eighth.

Palou now leads O’Ward by 15-points with Dixon in third place, 26-points back heading in Sunday’s race.

Live coverage of Race 2 of this doubleheader weekend, another 70-lap event, starts at noon (ET) Sunday on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network.

 

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Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou finishes 2nd in the Indianapolis 500

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INDIANAPOLIS, IN (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou was in position to win the 105th running of the Indianapolis 500 with three laps to go, leading the field across the yard of bricks. One problem, he had a 3-time winner stalking him from behind.

Palou did everything he could to keep Helio Castroneves behind him, but the Castroneves saw an opportunity as Palou encountered traffic on the next to last lap and pounced to make the pass for the lead and ultimately a record-tying 4th 500 victory.

“I tried everything,” explained Palou. “It hurts. But to be honest, it’s good to lose against probably one of the best. It was a close battle until the end. The good thing is that the two cars were Honda powered. That’s good. Congrats to Helio and Honda.”

Castroneves said he couldn’t duplicate the speed out front leading that Palou could.

“He was very good,” said Castroneves. “He was very fast. The Ganassi guys did a great job. They were very, very strong on their own. They really were able to do some amazing laps. I think it was almost 221. I try myself, and I couldn’t do it. I decided just to wait for the right opportunity.”

The right opportunity came with two laps-to-go when several cars, who were trying to make it to the end of the race without stopping for fuel, were up ahead of the pair racing for the win.

Three Rivers Karting

“When I saw the traffic, it was a bunch of it actually,” explained Castroneves. “I’m like, ‘That’s it, I’m not going to wait because I need that traffic to pull me so I can get the same speed’. When I made the move, I said, ‘That’s it’.”

“When he passed me, I was like, ‘Oh, maybe that’s going to be bad for me’ just because we were reaching the traffic,” said Palou. “As soon as you’re on traffic, you’re not P2 any more, you’re like P8. When you are P8 on a pack, it’s not easy to pass.”

Castroneves said after the race that Palou shouldn’t hang his head after finishing second in ‘The Greatest Spectacle In Racing’.

“He has an incredible talent,” said Castroneves. “He won the first race of the season. Nothing to be shamed. I finished second three times. Did I stop because of that? No. He did a great job. He had a great car. He did everything he possibly could. Last year he didn’t finish. This year he finished second. That’s a big improvement. He should think about the positive side, not the negative.”

Palou was trying to find the positives after the race but he was also disappointed he didn’t win.

“I didn’t expect that a second place would hurt that much until I crossed the finish line,” said Palou. “It huts a lot. But I’m super proud, super happy. I think the No. 10 NTT Data car was super fast.”

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