Jimmie Johnson entered a new phase in his journey in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES on Monday, Aug. 30, testing on an oval for the first time at Texas Motor Speedway.
Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Johnson is driving the No. 48 Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing in the road and street races in the 2021 season as an NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookie. But he moved back to familiar turf – he won seven times at TMS during his legendary 19 seasons in the Cup Series – by driving on the 1.44-mile, high-banked oval.
Johnson stressed today was an important milestone along the path toward his schedule for his second NTT INDYCAR SERIES season, in 2022. But more conversations – and maybe more laps – are needed before any decision is made.
“Today is really my first step toward the Indy 500 or potentially racing on ovals,” Johnson said. “I feel like I need to work through things that make me comfortable with the car on track, and more test sessions are needed on track before I can make a decision, certainly more conversations with my family, with Chip, with our sponsors. There are a lot of moving pieces to this.
“I’m just very thankful that the team was able to identify a day and say, ‘Hey, let’s just go get some laps and see what you think.’ And then we’ll know from here, once I have a day or two to digest it, what that next step might be and do we look to go on to another oval and try to get more experience, working toward a race someday down the road.”
The test was unique because it started at 6 a.m. local time, in darkness and under the lights at TMS. Testing continued until noon local time for Johnson in the No. 48 Carvana/The American Legion Honda. Most of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES races at Texas have taken place in the evening or night since the track was added as an annual stop for the series in 1997.
Johnson’s oval debut attracted plenty of star power from within the Ganassi team. Team driver advisor Dario Franchitti was present, as were Ganassi drivers Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan. Those three have combined to win 11 INDYCAR SERIES championships and five Indianapolis 500s. The trio also knows Texas, as Dixon has six INDYCAR series wins at the track, while Kanaan and Franchitti each have entered Victory Lane there once.
Franchitti also was able to offer unique insight for Johnson, as he raced in the Cup Series in 2008 in between long stints in the INDYCAR SERIES. He knows there are few similarities between the 3,400-pound Cup car and the 1,655-pound NTT INDYCAR SERIES car.
“It would be like a person that plays cricket, plays for the English team, and has a bat and a ball and plays baseball. Has a bat and a ball – everything else is different,” Franchitti said. “That’s the difference between a stock car and an Indy car.
“Everything you learn on the way up and everything you learn when you’re at the top in either of those fields doesn’t prepare you in any way to do the other. In fact, it hurts you. It’s a challenging thing that Jimmie is doing, but he’s done very well so far.”
Johnson’s next NTT INDYCAR SERIES race is the Grand Prix of Portland on Sunday, Sept. 12 in Portland, Oregon.