|Jimmie Johnson softens stance on IndyCar ovals|
Jimmie Johnson is a hot commodity within the IndyCar paddock, and the seven-time NASCAR Cup series champion revealed Friday that a future debut in open-wheel racing could be quite an extensive one and he also softened his stance on racing on the dangerous ovals now that IndyCars carry a Halo and windscreen.
Earlier this week, Chip Ganassi Racing announced Johnson had accepted a test invite in one of their Hondas next week on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, following the historic doubleheader weekend taking place around the track this weekend between the two major U.S. racing series.
FOR NEXT WEEK’S INDYCAR TEST, WE OFTEN HEAR ABOUT MANUFACTURER CONFLICTS BEING DIFFICULT FOR DRIVERS TO NAVIGATE THAT. TAKE US THROUGH HOW YOU GOT TO TEST A HONDA FOR CHIP GANASSI RACING NEXT WEEK AND IF YOU HAD ANY DIFFICULTIES BEING A CHEVROLET DRIVER TESTING A HONDA.
“No, everybody’s been super understanding that I just want to get on track and experience an IndyCar and see if it’s something that I want to do in the future. I feel like it is. My great relationship with Chevrolet – they were understanding that laps for me and any experience I can have in an IndyCar is really the most important thing. As we all know, I had a test scheduled for April 6th with the McLaren folks in a Chevrolet and I’m very, very hopeful to find a date with them and test in a McLaren Chevy. Honestly, any test date I can get, I want to take right now just to get every lap that I possibly can. I’m thankful that things came together so quickly with CGR and certainly there is the manufacturer conflict. But Chevrolet was very understanding of the situation and we’ll see where this all leads in the future."
HOW DID IT COME TOGETHER WITH CHIP AND IS THERE A CHANCE NOW THAT MAYBE YOU COULD RACE FOR CHIP IN THE FUTURE?
“I have a lot of options – I’m very fortunate to have many friends in the garage area. I’ve had a lot of conversations with more teams than just McLaren and CGR. And it’s very early days – there hasn’t been any serious conversations. It’s really just been about going to the track for the team to look at me and form their opinion of my abilities in one of their race cars. And certainly, I have that same opportunity to see what I think of each team and what an IndyCar even feels like. So, very early stages of all this. It’s hard to read too far into things at this point. But most importantly, I’m just thankful the teams are listening, willing and able to take me to the track just so I can learn."
DO YOU VIEW THIS AS A TRYOUT?
“Yeah, absolutely. It’s a test, it’s a tryout and it’s a two-way street. Two-way tryout for the team to look at me and for myself to look at a team."
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO SEE THAT WOULD MAKE YOU SAY ‘YES, I DEFINITELY WANT TO RACE ONE OF THESE OR I DEFINITELY DON’T WANT TO RACE ONE OF THESE’?
“If I’m about four seconds off the pace, then that’s probably a quick sign that I don’t need to be in one of these cars (laughs). It’s really how I can feel the car and what my pace is like. Of course, it’s unrealistic to think that I’ll be in a race-winning pace in the first test session. But if I’m within a certain amount of time and I have a good feel of the car, then for me, I feel like that’s an important first step that I need to know that I can be competitive. I do not want to go race in any series and not be competitive. It’s really in those lines of sensing and feeling the car. Of course, lap times always plays a role in things. From my standpoint, that’s what I’m looking at. And on the team side, I would say it’s pretty similar. They might have a few more things that they’re looking at, but on my side, it’s really about competitiveness."
WHAT IS IT ABOUT INDY – YOU HAVE FOUR WINS AND YOU COULD BECOME JUST THE THIRD DRIVER IN HISTORY TO WIN FIVE MAJOR RACES AT INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY. IS IT SOMETHING THAT STICKS WITH YOU STILL TODAY OR IS IT SOMETHING OF THE PAST?
“It took me a long time to figure that track out. I would say Indy, Martinsville and Sonoma were probably the tracks that took me the longest to be competitive at. Once I understood the driving style at those tracks and, more specifically to Indy, things really came our way. Having great race cars does not hurt. Great strategy is still very, very important today and I’ve been able to capitalize on those opportunities with good cars and good strategy."
SOME YOUNGER DRIVERS SAY THAT THE TRACK IS SORT OF UNCOMFORTABLE FOR STOCK CARS FOR THEM – IT’S NOT COMFORTABLE OR SOMETHING, IT JUST FEELS DIFFERENT. BUT YOU HAVE FOUND KIND OF THE SWEET SPOT. WHAT IS IT ABOUT THAT TRACK THAT YOU LIKE ABOUT IT?
“Yeah, for stock cars, we typically like a little more banking. And certainly, progressive banking so we can run side-by-side. There are two lanes for restarts, but to go fast, it really is a single lane race track and a very flat race track. So, I don’t think that fits into the NASCAR wheelhouse as well as it does for the IndyCar’s. It’s a phenomenal place to race – we all know and get that. I think IndyCar’s with their added downforce and the fact that they can change gears on a lap and in different situations really puts on a good show for them. So, for us, there are many things we can do wrong at that track and effect our lap times. There’s very little support from the banking and it’s easy to overdrive the car and slow yourself down."
HOW MUCH WILL YOU TAKE NOTE FROM TOMORROW’S RACE TO TRY TO HELP YOURSELF WHEN YOU HAVE YOUR TEST?
“Yeah, I’ll try to keep an eye on the television. I really plan on enjoying the day with my family. To have a Fourth of July on a Saturday at home is pretty rare, so my priorities will be there. But knowing that the cars will have data on them and the way CGR is going to prep me for my Wednesday test session, I will have more than enough data to look at to get ready. I will rely heavily on that. I was in the sim yesterday and starting to connect the dots, understand the track, understand braking marks and shift points, speed – all the things that you really need to know. I think data will get me very close and then being in the car is just really the next step back to that. And specifically, for this test, really just been talking to (Scott) Dixon. As you know, I was at COTA earlier this year. I have a lot of friends that are in the garage area and as the opportunity to test in April was coming around, many had reached out and said if I needed anything to lean on them. But it gets tricky when you get out of the specific teams. So, at least where I sit right now, I’ve just been leaning on Dixon to get ready for this test."
YOU’VE RAN VERY WELL SINCE NASCAR RETURNED IN MID-MAY AND THIS IS ONE OF YOUR BEST TRACKS. HOW PERFECT WOULD IT BE IN YOUR FINAL SEASON TO GET ONE LAST VICTORY AT INDIANAPOLIS?
“It would be storybook, to say the least. I certainly hope it happens. We’ve got a great starting spot – starting fourth. My team has been doing an amazing job and we’re ready."
YOU MENTIONED YOU WERE LINED UP TO TEST EARLIER THIS YEAR, BUT FOR YOUR INDYCAR TEST TO COME AT INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY, WHERE YOU’VE HAD SO MUCH SUCCESS IN NASCAR AND THERE’S SO MUCH HISTORY HERE. DOES IT MAKE IT EVEN MORE SPECIAL FOR YOU TO BE ABLE TO STEP INTO AN INDYCAR FOR THE FIRST TIME AT IMS?
“Yeah, track-wise, I guess the oval at Indy would be the top mark, especially in my era of racing and how many races I’ve watched on television with my grandfather and my father – watching the Indy 500 that is. So, yes of course, to be at such an iconic track does make it very special. I’ve just been super excited to get in these cars and experience them. Things really started with McLaren a few years ago when we did the ride swap and I was able to drive a Formula 1 car. Zak Brown and Fernando Alonso have been great friends to me and have helped me kind of pursue this single-seater open-wheel interest that I have. And there’s certainly other teams interested and that leads to the test with CGR. A lot of different things come to mind and I’m very thankful for the friends that I have within the open-wheel world. I’m not sure where it’s going to end up or where it’s going to take me, but I’m thankful for those relationships and these opportunities that I have right now."
ON THE NASCAR SIDE OF THINGS, WITH THE XFINITY CARS TAKING THE ROAD COURSE THIS WEEKEND, I KNOW THERE’S BEEN SOME CHATTER THAT THERE COULD BE A POTENTIAL FOR THE CUP CARS TO TRY THAT OUT AT SOME POINT IN THE FUTURE. YOU MENTIONED THAT THERE’S THE HISTORY OF ONLY HAVING THE ONE LANE HERE, MAKING IT KIND OF TOUGH TO PASS. WILL YOU BE WATCHING THAT XFINITY RACE CLOSELY AND DO YOU THINK THERE COULD BE SOME POSITIVE ASPECTS TO GET YOU GUYS ON THE ROAD COURSE AT SOME POINT IN THE FUTURE?
“Yeah, I think our cars race good on road courses. I’m personally torn to not have us on the oval with the significance of the oval and what we all know that means to motorsports. But our cars do put on a great show on road courses and I think street circuits are something we should definitely look at. If Cup does need to run on the infield, then there’s a lot of other factors showing why they should. But personally, the oval for me is the major – it’s the one we all want."
OFF THE INDY PATH, THE ALL-STAR RACE BEING ON THE 15TH AT BRISTOL, THEY RELEASED THE FORMAT THIS WEEK. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THE ALL-STAR RACE SHIFTING TO THE BULLRING AND THE WAY ALL THE THINGS BRISTOL KIND OF LENDS ITSELF? THIS WILL BE THE FIRST ONE YOU RUN AWAY FROM CHARLOTTE MOTOR SPEEDWAY.
“Everything has been so different this year, that this doesn’t feel too-far fetched to travel for the All-Star race (laughs). I think many of us have wondered what it would be like if it moved around to different venues. If it was on a short track, what kind of racing would we see. So, I’m excited to see what really shakes out. I think the potential is really high for an action-packed night – a very interesting or spectacular finish if you will. When I think of the way the track races with the traction compound and lane selection being so important, the cone rule or the choose rule that’s out and how that might impact things, there’s going to be plenty to talk about, a lot of action and a lot of aggression."
REGARDING WHAT KIND OF TRACKS THAT YOU MAY WANT TO DO IN INDYCAR – I KNOW THAT YOU’VE SAID THAT OVALS ARE OUT. IS IT JUST ROAD COURSES OR MAYBE WOULD YOU WANT TO TRY A STREET COURSE LIKE LONG BEACH OR DETROIT? WHERE DO YOU STAND ON WANTING TO RACE INDYCAR?
“For starters, I’m going to keep a close eye on things. Their safety on ovals has dramatically increased this year with the windscreen they have. So, I’ll keep a close eye on things there and see how the safety level looks. I’ve always wanted to race the Indy 500 – I’d have to do a lot of selling to my wife to get that pass to do it (laughs). But my true desire right now is to just run the road courses. There are 12 on the schedule right now and I would be open to run all 12 if the right opportunity came along. But when I was a kid growing up, the closest IndyCar racing for me was at Long Beach. So, one of my hopes is that I am able to race at Long Beach. I hung on the fence a lot as a kid watching and dreaming. I had a lot of meetings as my professional career developed at the Long Beach Grand Prix with Chevrolet, thinking about what would be next for me transitioning from off road trucks to asphalt. For me, there’s a lot of sentimental value with that race and I hope to race there. But I’m open to all – when you think of COTA, when you think of Road America, there’s just so many good ones to think about. Indy, obviously I’m going to have a chance to test there. I’d be highly interested in every one that they have on the schedule right now."
ARE YOU PLAYING ANY SORT OF ROLE, WHETHER OFFICIALLY OR UNOFFICIALLY, WITH HENDRICK AND THE FUTURE OF THE 48 CAR AND ITS DRIVER?
“Not really. I’ve really just been focused on driving the race car, trying to grow our team and get every bit of performance that we can out of the car. I’ve not been involved with sponsor meetings regarding the future of the 48 or meetings with Hendrick Motorsports and who the driver might be. So, I’ve really just been focused on performance and getting the most out of what I can this year."
WHEN YOUR FULL-TIME SEASON IS OVER, DO YOU EXPECT TO SORT OF MAINTAIN ANY RELATIONSHIP WITH THE TEAM? OR DO YOU THINK YOU’LL SORT OF BE MOVING ON TO DIFFERENT THINGS THAT YOU’VE BEEN INTERESTED IN AND CHALLENGING YOURSELF WITH?
“That’s unclear – I certainly have all this history with Hendrick Motorsports. It’s family, so I know I will stay in touch and be involved. But from an organized or professional standpoint, nothing has been discussed at this point, so I don’t know what that would look like. But my heart is with that 48, no matter who’s in it, where it is. Hendrick Motorsports and that 48 car – that’s family, that’s home."