Jimmie Johnson 2022

Breakthrough or blip? Johnson delivered an IndyCar result to match the hype at Iowa


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Jimmie Johnson said his experience at Iowa Speedway was the first time that he felt his NASCAR-honed skillset could really translate into success in IndyCar.

It rewarded him with a career-best fifth place finish at the Iowa 300 on Sunday, sealed by a firm-but-fair pass on his Ganassi team mate, and championship leader, Marcus Ericsson.

“I’m so happy to finally have some experience transfer from stock cars to IndyCars,” Johnson remarked afterwards

Part of the seven-time NASCAR Cup champion’s progression this season has simply been down to the fact that, unlike his partial rookie campaign, he is running the full season including all of the oval races. His sixth-place finish at the first of those – Texas Motor Speedway – was evidence that simply being back in a more familiar element would benefit the 47-year-old sophomore.

But this weekend was the first where Johnson felt truly in his element, understanding how to get the most out of his Honda-powered Dallara IR-18. In his words, he’s “just enjoying driving these little rocket ships around.”

Jimmie Johnson 2022
Johnson prevailed in fight with team mate Ericsson
“I’m understanding how these cars reward aggression,” Johnson said. “The faster you go, the more downforce these cars create. It takes a lot of energy to turn these tyres on, and make them perform like they need to. I just think I’ve been on the soft side of this since I’ve ever sat in a car.”

“The ovals feel more natural to me, and I’m able to find my confidence, push the car, and have the downforce and the tyres work for me.”

“[On] the street and road courses, I’m making gains. Unfortunately they’re not as obvious as what you can see here on the ovals. But I continue to make gains.”

Johnson also explained that the experience of racing around the 1.4 kilometre (seven-eighths of a mile) short oval – a circuit he’d never raced on prior to this weekend – was also the closest he’d felt to an experience similar to what he experienced at the height of his NASCAR success, where he could set up multiple corners and use multiple lanes to his advantage.

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Specifically, he likened the experience of racing at Iowa to two revered ovals exclusive to NASCAR: Bristol Motor Speedway, the rapid half-mile bullring with its high-banked corners; and historic Darlington Raceway, with its abrasive surface that creates intense tyre degradation similar to what IndyCar drivers experienced this weekend at Iowa.

Sixth place in Texas was previously Johnson’s best
“It honestly reminded me a lot of running at Bristol, the way you just got to run right at the edge of the marbles, tip-toeing around that. And if you’re willing to get up that extra six or eight inches, it would pay off,” he said. “You just drive above and beyond what your brain tells you the car can do. Here later in a run, the tyres fall off. Reminds me of maybe Darlington in a Cup car, which both are two of my favourite tracks to drive.”

“At Texas I felt like I understood the timing of a run, I had the courage to try the second lane where others didn’t. Indy, I’m still scratching my head over the race at Indy, how to pass there. That was such a struggle for me.”

“On an oval you have that repetition, you get into a cadence of watching the driver in front of you, understanding if they’re inconsistent or if their car is inconsistent, what circumstances that puts them in, how you might be able to take advantage of it. You kind of build a cadence and rhythm of who you’re stalking.

“I found that to be very common here. Not so much at Indy. Texas, it didn’t feel that way. You’re going so fast, timing your run was more important than kind of stalking someone and working different lines.”

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“So here, this is the closest experience that I would say crosses over to NASCAR that I’ve had.”

In a vacuum, that a driver of Johnson’s advanced age and his total lack of previous single-seater experience is doing more than just making up the numbers on a grid every weekend in IndyCar is a remarkable feat.

Jimmie Johnson 2022
Indianapolis left Johnson “scratching my head”
But by way of NASCAR’s popularity in the American motor racing landscape surpassing IndyCar’s – even as NASCAR’s popularity has plummeted in recent years – Johnson’s IndyCar adventure has been significantly hyped in a way that few other drivers in the series, even proven IndyCar champions, have been afforded in the same timeframe.

Which is why some observers have taken a more cynical eye to Johnson’s road and street course struggles and his underwhelming performance in his first Indianapolis 500 which ended in a late crash that could have cost Ericsson victory. That was followed by his contentious selection as the race’s Rookie of the Year by members of the media who were more impressed by his profile than any other tangible results (see also: Fernando Alonso circa 2017).

Johnson will have one more oval race to really dig in and showcase his best stuff, at Gateway Motorsports Park on 20th August, the low-banked two-kilometre/1.25-mile short oval that has similar traits to Iowa.

While nothing would match the achievement of winning the Indianapolis 500, a strong result or even a first career win at Gateway for Johnson would be a fine way to really put a bow on what should be a wonderful story of an accomplished racing driver reinventing themselves late in life and achieving success in another discipline of racing.


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RJ O'Connell
Motorsport has been a lifelong interest for RJ, both virtual and ‘in the carbon’, since childhood. RJ picked up motorsports writing as a hobby...

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18 comments on “Breakthrough or blip? Johnson delivered an IndyCar result to match the hype at Iowa”

  1. Roth Man (@rdotquestionmark)
    27th July 2022, 17:27

    47 though I mean fair play.

  2. When I saw Jimmie in the front 10 I assumed he was out of cycle – impressive weekend for him.

  3. No disrespect but the man is delusional, he is 47 close to 200lbs and losing his reaction time with age.
    He placed high at Iowa oval only due to his nascar skills but most of his road track finishes are towards the back.
    I Don’t know why he his harming his legacy like this. It is similar to when Mansell returned to F1 in 1995 against Ron Dennis’s wishes (Mansell’s and McLarens Marlboro sponsors forced Ron’s hand) but he had to miss the first two races of the 1995 season because he was too fat to fit in the McLaren MP4/10.
    Farcical indeed but at least it was a rare glimpse of Ron’s humour when he described the ordeal https://youtu.be/ZdGvgDRTMig?t=853

    1. LOL Jimmie might be getting a long in the tooth but you should not question his physical fitness. He is anything but fat, in fact he looks more fit than most of this year’s IndyCar rookies.
      Besides, 40+ isn’t unusual age for an IndyCar driver and Johnson isn’t even the oldest full time driver on IndyCar’s grid.

    2. Roth Man (@rdotquestionmark)
      27th July 2022, 20:13

      I don’t think it will harm his legacy. Most people can appreciate what a mammoth task the switch was at 46. If he gets some half decent results it’s an impressive feat.

    3. Jimmie is a triathlete. Fit as one can possibly can be. Far from the best source, but google has him at 165. I have no idea where you got 200 from.

    4. @ccpbioweapon

      It is similar to when Mansell returned to F1 in 1995…

      Mansell was still a big draw at the time. He put more fans in the seats by being there (and more money in the promoter’s pockets). His legacy survived it.

      I doubt many tune in to IndyCar just because of Jimmie Johnson.

      I just finished reading Steve Matchett’s book Life in the Fast Lane: The Inside Story of Benetton’s First World Championship. Steve wrote about the excitement surrounding Mansell’s return.
      For a grease monkey, Steve did a fine job on the book. Recommended reading.

      1. That really was a great read!

    5. He isn’t ‘harming his legacy’. Championship level drivers tend to always seek new challenges from my experience. Those who are averse to harming their reputation are rarely in the position to even have a substantial legacy in the first place.

  4. As someone of roughly the same age, I am impressed with what he has achieved. But having said that, with the equipment and team information he has had at his disposal since joining IndyCar (see his teammates’ success), you have to say that with the exception of Iowa, he is massively underperforming. He is still being treated like a rookie in his second year. No other driver would be given the amount of time he has been given to get up to speed. He only has 8 more points than Calum Ilott, who sat out an entire race. So while I am impressed that he is doing what he is doing at his age, it feels more like charity at this point to keep him in that seat rather than someone up and coming.

    1. @g-funk This take makes sense from an F1 fan viewpoint (no disrespect intended), but that isn’t how things work in IndyCar. Johnson isn’t taking up a seat; his seat only exists because of the money Carvana is paying for him to drive it. IndyCar teams don’t have a static number of entries; if a sponsor puts up the cash, they’ll add another seat, and subtract it when that money is gone.

      Put another way: Without Johnson, there is no #48 Carvana Honda for an upcoming driver to get into. The car would simply disappear from the grid, unless the new driver brought sponsorship of similar value.

      1. @exediron Exactly, I think the ‘old guy taking up space a young guy could have’ argument is often misplaced when used in F1, and it doesn’t apply at all in this case.

      2. @exediron @keithcollantine You’re telling me Carvana couldn’t find another driver to sponsor? The sponsorship between Carvana and Johnson only came into being a few years ago as a giant f you to Rick Hendrick, who is also a car dealer and for whom Johnson drove for many many years. So to say that the car is only on the grid because of Johnson is naive at best. Carvana had the money to sponsor the team already and could have found another driver to drive the car who is competitive. They chose to go with a driver who wouldn’t embarrass them and also serve to troll Hendrick. There is a huge stable of drivers who fall into that category if that is what they really want.

        1. An Indycar team saw an untapped NASCAR market audience and moved- it makes perfect sense to go with Johnson from a t-shirt and name recognition standpoint, sink or swim.
          Personally, I think short ovals do not belong in Indycar because they are killing machines. Johnson understands these tracks, but open wheels at these speeds in a blender are a bad fit. I totally respect Johnson for hanging in there though.

  5. I know the press like to talk about how unfit (fat?) Mansell was, washed up and past his primeat McLaren in 1995 because he couldn’t comfortably fit in the car. However, he was still winning races while substituting at Williams in 1994.

    Suddenly “lost it” and a terrible driver in the span of a couple months, or was the McLaren actually a really tight car?

    As for Johnson, his decades of oval experience definitely shows with his results in Texas, Iowa, and during practice at Indy. Road racing is a different skill set, and I’m not sure he’s going to master it at this late stage.

    Interestingly, in IndyCar, Mansell won on ovals, but just 1 street race, and no road races.

    1. I’ve read in the past that there wasn’t that much incentive for Mansell to get into the McLaren car, since it was a bit of a dog of a car @ykiki, so there was not much to be gained for him anyway.

    2. Yes, finally someone said it!!! The last time Mansell drove in a F1 Grand Prix in a great car – the 1994 Australian GP – he won the pole position (0.6s ahead of teammate Hill) and won the race.

      As to Jimmy Johnson – he’s an expert and specialist in racing on oval tracks. This is known and obvious. The article’s title is silly and it sounds very incompetent to even pose the question if it’s a breakthrough or blip.

  6. great article

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