IndyCar

Johnson will be “much more competitive” racing IndyCars on ovals

The seven-time NASCAR Cup champion had a predictably tough baptism to single-seater racing last year with Chip Ganassi Racing, managing a qualifying peak of 21st and a best finish of 17th.

This year Johnson expands his schedule to take in all rounds on the calendar, including ovals on which he built his career in NASCAR.

The 46-year-old has tested at Texas Motor Speedway and completed two of the three stages in the Rookie Orientation Program at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The other three ovals on the 2022 IndyCar schedule comprise Gateway and the double-header at Iowa Speedway – a track on which Johnson has never raced in any type of car.

Kurt Busch, the 2004 NASCAR Cup champion who claimed rookie of the year honours in a one-off Indianapolis 500 appearance in 2014, told Autosport that he expected Johnson to “do a really great job” on ovals.

Johnson agreed that ovals were likely to yield better results, despite the higher speeds involved.

“I’m just eager to get more oval experience to try to sense and understand the car,” he said.

“I feel like I’ll be much more competitive on the ovals.

“The faster I can learn the cars and sensations and adjustments, the better my chances will be at a podium or better yet.

Jimmie Johnson, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda

Jimmie Johnson, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda

Photo by: Joe Skibinski

“I spent last year just trying to hitch my trailer to the back of the pack and keep up with everyone, and I was finally doing that at the end.

“I do think the ovals should increase my competitiveness and get me right in the mix with everybody.”

Describing the sensation of oval racing in IndyCar compared with NASCAR, Johnson explained that he was “surprised how familiar it felt” at the Texas oval, revealing that adjustments he was accustomed to making in a stock car created similar responses in an IndyCar.

He added that he expected qualifying to be “the most daunting part” of his Indy 500 debut, citing 2018 winner Will Power’s struggles to make the grid last year as “intimidating to watch, especially as a rookie coming in”.

“I hope [Ganassi] are as fast as we were last year, when we had all four cars up there in the top 10, that can make life a lot easier,” he said.

“But man, if it goes the other way, then the slightest temperature change or wind direction change just puts you on your heels, and it can be a tough day.”

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