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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.

IndyCar

Alex Palou dominates INDYCAR Million Dollar Challenge at Thermal

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Penske Entertainment: James Black

THERMAL, CA (March 24, 2024) – Alex Palou and his No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing team led every lap en route to victory in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES Sprint for the Purse exhibition at The Thermal Club, claiming a cool $500,000 payday.

“Amazing to get the win, to get the money, just that feeling of winning again,” said Palou. “It’s what we needed.”

“Today was like a little Sunday drive out there in front all by himself,” said team owner Chip Ganassi.  “He didn’t even break a sweat.”

Palou started on the pole position in the No. 10 Ridgeline Lubricants/DHL Honda and watched in his mirrors as his competitors elected to conserve tire wear on the dusty, sandy track in the hopes of challenging the reigning Series Champion in the second of two 10-lap segments.

“It’s always tough to try and manage the tires. ‘Am I doing too much? Am I not doing enough?’,” questioned Palou. “Honestly, once you saw during the main race, especially McLaughlin and Felix, were saving tires, I was like, Okay, that’s the best thing that they could have done for us.”

Palou cruised to a 5.7929-second victory over the No. 3 XPEL Team Penske Chevrolet of Scott McLaughlin, who earned $350,000 for his runner-up finish.

“The first 10 laps was about trying to get some position, which I did, to get to the second, maybe set myself up for a pass after the restart,” said McLaughlin. “Alex is a pretty smart driver, as we know. I knew he’d be doing exactly what I was doing. Ultimately I didn’t have enough pace for Alex either.
It is what it is. We’ll keep working. Alex has been fast all week and they deserve the win.”

Three Rivers Karting

Felix Rosenqvist finished third in just his second event with Meyer Shank Racing, taking home $250,000 for his efforts.

“I’m super happy we were able to have this week because it’s kind of been a mix of a race and a test for us, just trying different things, getting to know each other more,” explained Rosenqvist.  “We’ve been quick, but I feel like every time we’re out there, we’re just learning something new. This has been a huge learning experience. Also some cash at the end of the day. Super proud of Meyer Shank Racing.”

Andretti Global’s Colton Herta took the tire saving to the extreme immediately taking it easy in the first 10-lap segment, where he finished 12-seconds behind Palou, but it paid off in the second segment as the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda restarted 9th and raced up to fourth.

“I think our strategy worked,” said Herta. “We were talking about it on pure pace, maybe we can move up six spots at most. If we get a little lucky and cars have some problems, but if we save the tires, we might get a little more. Obviously, the tire advantage was pretty big, so we were able to pick off everybody on the way up there.”

Palou’s teammates Marcus Armstrong finished fifth to pick up $50,000 for he and the No. 11 Ridgeline CGR Honda team and Linus Lundqvist finished sixth in the No. 8 American Legion Honda.

Missing from the CGR was Scott Dixon and the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda squad, who failed to transfer from the first heat race.  Dixon made contact with Juncos Hollinger Racing’s Romain Grosjean on the opening lap and was penalized for avoidable contact.  Dixon later apologized for the contact which caught him off-guard when Grosjean slowed earlier than expected.

The next points-paying NTT INDYCAR SERIES race is the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sunday, April 21 on the streets of Long Beach, California.

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IndyCar

Alex Palou and Scott Dixon grab Top 10’s to lead Chip Ganassi Racing at St. Pete

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Penske Entertainment: James Black

ST. PETERSBURG, FL (March 10, 2024) – Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou and Scott Dixon grabbed Top 10 finishes in Sunday’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by RP Funding.

Palou, the defending and two-time series Champion, started 13th on grid and by the midway point in the race he had worked his way up to the 11th spot in the No. 10 DHL Honda.

Palou continued to gain spots and after his final pit stop he was just outside the Top 5, finishing sixth.

“I’m happy to finish in the top-six and it’s a great start,” said Palou, who was the fourth biggest mover over the course of the race (+7). “That first yellow really didn’t help us, as it put everyone in the same position so we had 35 laps less of the race to do something. We finished two spots better than what we did last year. We started struggling at the beginning of the weekend, so it was an amazing recovery by Chip Ganassi Racing and the No. 10 DHL Honda team. ”

Dixon started right outside the Top 10 in the 12th position and on the opening lap avoided disaster when several drivers split Romain Grosjean, who appeared to approach Turn 1 cautiously.  Grosjean drifted right to avoid the driver on his left, only to make contact with Dixon’s No. 9 PNC Bank Honda.  Luckily Dixon was able to continue without damage to his machine eventually finishing 9th.

“It was a bit of a bland day,” said Dixon, who will be inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame on Tuesday. “I thought we had a good situation at the start and then it all kind of closed down to go off-track to make sure that we didn’t hit anybody. There was just no tire degradation so there wasn’t as much racing as I would have liked. Ultimately, I think the PNC Bank crew should have had a fifth, sixth or seventh, so it’s not the absolute best way to start the season.”

Rookie Kyffin Simpson impressed in his INDYCAR debut, starting 23rd and advancing 9-positions to finish 14th in the No. 4 Journie Rewards Honda.

Three Rivers Karting

“What an incredible day,” said Simpson, who finished the day as the top placing rookie. “I’m stoked to have such a good first race in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. I felt like we had a good start to the race and then we just kept it clean. It was definitely tight at times with some side-by-side racing, but we were able to push through and keep things clean. We were able to really push it on the greens at the end with great pace. I’m very happy with the entire day for the Journie Rewards team.”

Linus Lundqvist was running ahead of Simpson and was sitting in 15th place at the midway point of the race and was methodically picking up spots.  Disaster struck on Lap 64 when Grosjean attempted a pass approaching Turn 10, sending the No. 8 American Legion Honda backwards into the tire barrier.  The No. 8 CGR crew replaced the rear wing on pit road and sent the 2022 INDY NXT Champion back into the fight.  Grosjean took responsibility for the ill-advised attempt and served a drive-thru penalty but that little solace for the No. 8 team.

“We were fighting on the edge of the top-10 and then sadly got taken out,” said Lundqvist. “It’s quite unfortunate because the guys and girls with the American Legion team did such a phenomenal job to be fighting for that top-10 position. It is a long season and we will definitely bounce back from that and bring the positives from the speed that we had.”

Marcus Armstrong and the No. 11 Ridgeline Lubricants Honda also showed speed all weekend and was the best qualifying car out of the CGR stable starting 11th and working his way into the Top 10 during the first 25-laps of the race.

Turn 10 challenged drivers all day because of a tricky tail wind going into the turn and Armstrong fell victim on Lap 27 when he ended up in the tire barrier.

“I was working on a fuel number and touched the brakes and locked the brakes immediately,” explained a dejected Armstrong. “I’m so disappointed by that mistake and I feel terrible for the No. 11 Chip Ganassi Racing Ridgeline Lubricants group because we were fast. To be honest, we weren’t pushing hard at the time. We were fuel saving and waiting for our time to push. It was a costly mistake and it stinks.”

Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden was basically untouchable all weekend leading 92-of-100 laps en route to the victory.

Next up for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES is the $1,000,000 non-points race at The Thermal Club.

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Josef Newgarden and Team Penske dominate Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

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Penske Entertainment: James Black

ST. PETERSBURG, FL (March 10, 2024) – Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden started from the pole position and in dominating fashion won the NTT INDYCAR SERIES season opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

“I think it’s so deserving for the work that they put in,” said Newgarden, crediting his team and for the victory. “I know intimately what’s been put into this program in the off-season. We worked really hard to close the gap. We didn’t have the speed on the road and street courses last year.”

Newgarden led the opening stint of the race and briefly gave up the lead during the first round of pit stops when Felix Rosenqvist, who started second, and Colton Herta leapfrogged the No. 2 PPG Chevy.

“As soon as we restarted I was like ‘I’m going to pass these guys’,” said Newgarden.  “It was fun to have the killer mentality.  It makes a big difference when you have a car like that.”

Once Newgarden got the lead back, the only time the two-time series Champion wasn’t leading the race was when he’d go to the pits and others stayed out to try the overcut.  In the end Newgarden led 92-of-100-laps.

Race day was quite the day for Team Penske who saw Scott McLaughlin finish third in the No. 3 Dex Imaging Chevy and Will Power finish fourth in the No. 12 Verizon Chevy.

Three Rivers Karting

“For us to start ninth and to work our way up to third is a win in some ways,” said McLaughlin. “I tried to get second there but I had Will breathing down my neck so you take what you can get because it is so tight in INDYCAR.”

“We kind of expected it,” said Power of the Team Penske performance. “A lot of improvements in the off-season. The Chevy engine’s really good, we’ve done a lot of work on the cars too.”

Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward spoiled the Penske party with a second-place finish in the No. 5 Chevrolet.

“Super happy that we ran forward today,” said O’Ward. “Penske was a little too strong for us. I was happy with my race car today, we just needed a little bit more to make Josef sweat.”

Andretti Global’s Colton Herta rounded out the top 5 in the Gainbridge Honda.

Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou rallied for a sixth-place finish after starting 13th followed by Rosenqvist in seventh.

O’Ward’s teammate Alexander Rossi finished eighth followed by Scott Dixon in ninth. Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay rounded out the Top 10.

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