INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — There are 124 days and counting until the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500, and this year’s rookie class at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is headlined by a legend in the racing world. After a year of eyeing the ovals, 46 year-old Jimmie Johnson is gearing up for the full slate with the NTT IndyCar Series
Despite Johnson’s extensive resume there is and always has been one oval that drew him in.
“I mean, being a young kid watching on the couch with my dad, my grandfather. My dream was to be an IndyCar driver as a kid, but my opportunities with Chevrolet led me to NASCAR,” Johnson added, “The energy, the pageantry, the attention, the meaning, the history, you know, all those things come together and this city embraces this race like no one else.”
According to Johnson, the Indianapolis 500 has always been on his mind.
“I feel like when the aeroscreen was introduced, my antenna went up a little then. And then I went to my first Indy 500 in person and I just wanted to be out there so bad. And of course being here for the couple of weeks and everything that went on. Alex Palou’s big crash that he had in practice, there were some great data points for me to learn and understand the safety points in the car. So, that started weighing on my mind and my wife said, look if you want to go test one go give it a try. Go test and see and after the first test session in Texas, I was like ‘Honey, I’m serious about this.’”
For a man who earned all but one of his 83 NASCAR Cup wins on an oval, the road and street courses just weren’t quite cutting it for Johnson. He made 12 IndyCar starts for Chip Ganassi Racing, and he took his lumps with his best finish at 17th at Laguna Seca, but don’t rule out hardware for the No. 48’s first official full season ahead.
Other IndyCar drivers weighed in on racing with Johnson.
“I think most people think he’s crazy. But you know, how much he’s enjoyed, you know that,” said Scott Dixon. “But also saying that I think going to ovals, you know, he’s going to feel much more at home and much more in his wheelhouse, where, you know, he’s going to pick up a ton of confidence. And I think that’s going to help him throughout the season. So, I’m excited. I’m not going to trash talk a seven-time NASCAR champion.”
“Coming back a second season, not only and I being in that situation before, it just gonna, that weight over your shoulder is going to be lifted,” said reigning Indianapolis 500 Champion Helio Castroneves, “And I’m telling you – he is going to. I’m looking forward to have more battles with him. And now we’re going to be towards the front.”
“Jimmie got the bug and decided that he wants to do the whole championship,” Tony Kanaan added. “So, the competition is there. Obviously, he’s a seven-time NASCAR champion. His oval skills are unbelievable. He’s still a rookie, though.”
Rookie or not, JJ is headed for the Indianapolis 500 and it’s bound to be another May for the record books.