INDIANAPOLIS, IN (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Helio Castroneves joined an elite group of winners when he crossed the yard of bricks first in the 2021 Indianapolis 500 – the four time winners club. Jimmie Johnson can join an even more exclusive club with a victory in Sunday’s Greatest Spectacle In Racing – joining racing legends A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti as the only winners of both the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500.
Johnson joined Chip Ganassi’s INDYCAR squad last year but only ran the road and street courses as he got acclimated to the series. Johnson attended last year’s race and knew he wanted to drive in it after the cars roared into Turn 1 during the first few laps. Persuading his wife Chandra to let him run the race was the next challenge. The Aeroscreen and its safety benefits were key to accomplishing that task.
Now Johnson is here and has been fast all month, as have all five of Chip Ganassi’s Honda’s.
“It’s pretty awesome,” said Johnson when asked about CGR. “Just so thankful to be a part of the group. Watching them prepare literally since they left here last year and continually thinking of this race and it being a motto to win here before the championship.”
“It’s written in the race shop,” said Johnson. “The first goal is to win the Indianapolis 500 and then the championship. To be a part of it, to live it, to now be here experiencing it is really cool.”
Johnson has been taking time this month to soak up the experience and the energy the fans bring to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, something he didn’t do much of in his Cup career.
“I think the first moment I had was before I fired up to leave to start my qualifying lap, I saw the NBC Peacock pit box that I was in last year commentating, and I sat there with so much FOMO watching these guys go,” said Johnson. “To just know what’s happened in the course of 12 months and actually be in the race car, that was a really neat moment. Instead of being so focused on just the work side, I’m enjoying the different moments. I’m letting my mind relax a little bit, look around and smell the roses type moments, which was not how I operated my Cup career.”
Not that Johnson hasn’t been focused this month on getting the No. 48 Carvana Honda performing at the highest level possible.
“I’m still very new to it all, but gaining experience and gaining confidence in what I’m feeling, gaining confidence in what I’m looking for, and gaining confidence in the adjustments we’re making on the car,” said Johnson. “I feel like the more seat time I get, the more I gain confidence in myself and understanding the car and then certainly understanding changes. I’ve had a few aha moments where I think adjustments have crossed over from what I would do with a Cup car here setup-wise to the INDYCAR.”
Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya, who won his first 500 driving for Ganassi, thinks Johnson will not only run well but says he is a threat for the win.
“I told him when he came to INDYCAR, ‘you’re doing the hard thing (road and street courses), that is the thing that you would struggle and the good thing where you would kick everybody’s ass (ovals) you didn’t,’ so I’m so happy he’s doing it….well to a point. I don’t want him to beat me,” laughed Montoya, who also drove in NASCAR for Ganassi. “I do really believe he has a genuine shot of winning because he’s got so much experience on ovals and so much experience in long races, and a lot of pit stops and he knows how to go through the good and bad of a race.”
Team Owner Chip Ganassi, who’s Twitter hashtag is #ILikeWinners, said having Johnson join the team has helped elevate the Championship-winning organization even more.
“Unquestionably it’s a good thing for our team,” said Ganassi. “Anytime you can bring a seven-time champion of anything into your team it’s going to lift your team up. I think when Jimmie came to our team in ’21 we were Champions in ’20, and he lifted our team even though we were the Champions.”
Late Sunday afternoon Johnson can add to his Championship legacy by drinking the milk and join some very elite company in the process.
The green flag drops on the 106th Indianapolis 500 at 12:45 p.m. ET with coverage beginning at 11 a.m. on NBC and on the IMS Radio Network.
Newgarden fastest in first INDYCAR practice at Mid-Ohio
LEXINGTON, OH (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden put the No. 2 PPG Chevy atop the speed chart after the opening NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Newgarden’s best lap of 1 minute, 7.0549-seconds around the 13-turn, 2.258-mile permanent road course was 0.2061-seconds faster than defending series Champion Alex Palou in the No. 10 NTT Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
“I’m relatively happy,” said Newgarden. “I think our car was good off the truck. I think the (temperatures) definitely made the trap speed low, and it felt very difficult to drive the car today to bring it up to temperature.”
Palou’s Chip Ganassi Racing teammate and Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson, the runner-up to Newgarden in 2021, ended the day fourth in the No. 8 Ridgeline Lubricants Honda at 1:07.3720.
Scott Dixon posted the 9th fastest lap in the No. 9 PNC Bank CGR Honda. Dixon’s 1:07.5609 was a half-second back of Newgarden.
The NTT INDYCAR SERIES is back on track at Mid-Ohio Saturday with Practice 2 at 9:30 a.m. (ET), followed by qualifying for the NTT P1 Award for pole at 2:45 p.m. Both sessions will be live on Peacock Premium and INDYCAR Radio Network.
Scott Dixon looking to get season and title fight on track at Mid-Ohio
LEXINGTON, OH (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon is looking to get back to victory lane and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Complex could be exactly what ‘the Iceman’ needs.
Chip Ganassi Racing has 11-wins at Mid-Ohio, the 13-turn 2.258-mile permanent road course 181-miles West of Pittsburgh. The list of winners includes Alex Zanardi (1996, 1997), Juan Pablo Montoya (1999), Dario Franchitti (2010), Charlie Kimball (2013) and Dixon (2007, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2019).
“I think the last to first of course was probably the best one,” recalled Dixon. “Obviously the most unexpected one where I think where we were able to save a ton of fuel. We kind of caught a caution, which I think was Ryan Hunter-Reay, at the perfect time and went on to win”.
The 1-2 finish between he and one of his CGR teammates was one of the most memorable too.
“I think that probably was the craziest one was with Felix Rosenqvist, a few years back, where it was a two-stop strategy against a three-stop strategy. We drove the tires off, and I think I had a whole logjam behind me the last three or four laps.”
Dixon and the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda team is looking up at a logjam in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES Championship where Dixon sits sixth, 67-points behind teammate Marcus Ericsson.
“I think as a group and as a team, we just haven’t been getting the job done,” said Dixon, a 6-time Series Champion. “I was hoping that the Indy 500 was going to be that turn and kick that we needed, but yeah, it’s been an interesting year, lots of ups and downs and some missed opportunities. We’ll keep after it.”
Dixon, and his teammates, have come up as part of rumors swirling about driver movement in coming seasons. Dixon said he has not been part of those conversations and is happy where he is at.
“I haven’t been a part of any of these conversations, so not really sure where a lot of these things come from,” said Dixon. “Obviously people talk. I even got a few messages from people asking about the same thing. For me I love doing what I’m doing, I love being a part of the team that I’m with, and who knows what comes in the future, but as of right now just focusing on this season. Yeah, that’s all I’ve got to say really. There’s nothing to it.”
Josef Newgarden puts the PPG colors in victory lane at Road America
ELKHART LAKE, WI (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Josef Newgarden leapfrogged leader Alexander Rossi during green flag pit stops and held off a hard-charging Marcus Ericsson late in the race to win Sunday’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES Sonsio Grand Prix at Road America.
The victory was Newgarden’s third of the year and came with a $1-million dollar bonus from PeopleReady. The bonus went to the first driver to win on an oval (Texas) a street course (Long Beach) and a road course (Road America). The money will be spit with half going to Newgarden and Team Penske and the other half to charities of Newgarden’s choice.
“To finally get it done and most importantly to give that money to charity, half of that money is going to charity with SeriousFun Network and Wags and Walks Nashville,” said Newgarden. “I hope they’re happy about it, that’s a lot of money coming their way.”
Newgarden started second and tucked in behind Rossi, the pole sitter, for the first 14-laps when the first round of green flag pit stops took place. Newgarden’s No. 2 PPG Chevy crew got the two-time Series Champion out ahead of Rossi and as the rest of the field completed their stops. Newgarden inherited the lead.
“You’ve got to be on your toes at all times (in this series),” said Newgarden. “You can go in with a plan, but you probably have to change your plan 90 percent of the time once the race starts to unfold.”
Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson finished second in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda after passing Rossi on a late restart. The runner-up finish came despite Ericsson making contact with his teammate, and defending Series Champion, Alex Palou while racing for third in Turn 5 on Lap 4.
“First of all, I’m really sorry,” Ericsson said. “You never want to have contact with a teammate. From my point of view, the door was open, and I was already side by side. If you see a gap, you go for it. It’s important at the beginning of the race to get track position.”
Ericsson regained the points lead with the second place finish and sits 27-points ahead of 2nd place Will Power (293-266). Power, last week’s winner at Detroit, finished 19th after rookie Devlin Defrancesco punted Power into the Turn 5 wall early in the race.
The next NTT INDYCAR SERIES race is The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio presented by the All-New Civic Type R on Sunday, July 3 (noon ET, NBC, Peacock Premium, INDYCAR Radio Network). Mid-Ohio is the closest track to Pittsburgh that the NTT INDYCAR SERIES races.