NASCAR Cup legend takes his shot at open wheel
After 20 years, 686 races, 83 wins and seven championships in NASCAR’s Cup series, Jimmie Johnson finds himself starting over as a 45-year-old rookie in IndyCar.
Well, not exactly starting over. After retiring from the country’s top stock car racing series in 2020, the affable Californian tries his hand at open wheel, joining Chip Ganassi Racing for a limited schedule of 13 races on street and road courses. And he’s found that getting used to an IndyCar entails a substantial learning curve.
In testing at several tracks over the past eight months, he’s done well on straights and in tight turns but was slow on middle-speed corners. He’s used to the feedback he gets from a stock car and can feel when he’s about to lose control, something he has struggled to pick up from an IndyCar. But that, he feels, will come with time.
He’s loved open-wheel racing since childhood and was bitten by the bug three years ago when he attended the Bahrain Formula 1 race and tried Fernando Alonso’s car. Its performance blew him away and he decided he wanted more.
That led to discussions with Ganassi Racing and tests last summer on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course, where Johnson performed well and Ganassi saw potential. And thus a part-time IndyCar career was born.
Sunday, April 25, Johnson will be vying with the likes of James Hinchcliffe, Takuma Sato, Josef Newgarden and Ryan Hunter-Reay on a 14-turn, 1.8-mile downtown waterfront street course in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, which airs on NBC from the Gulf Coast Florida city.
Full name: Jimmie Kenneth Johnson
Birth date: Sept. 17, 1975
Birthplace: El Cajon, Calif.
Height/weight: 5 foot 11 inches/165 pounds
Team: Chip Ganassi Racing
Honors and achievements: Cup champion (2006-10, 2013, 2016); Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year (2009); Daytona 500 champion (2006, 2013)