Johnson thrilled after Texas top 10, excited for Indy, “why not” he says of winning potential

FORT WORTH, TX — Jimmie Johnson has no regrets with how his NTT INDYCAR Series career has started. See, he initially joined the series on a part-time basis in 2021 but only doing so on all road/street course events. However, among his 83 career NASCAR Cup Series victories, 82 of which were on ovals. His comfort was on ovals but his personal comfort in an open wheel car was on road/street courses.

Unfortunately, it led to some worse than normal results. For a driver that’s won seven championships, being outside the top 15 in all 13 races that he’s run in INDYCAR prior to this weekend isn’t what he envisioned when joining Chip Ganassi Racing in 2021.

“Certainly I’m a racer. I want to win,” Johnson said during a media call this past week. “That’s ultimately why I’m out there. I’m just trying to be realistic with this journey, how different it is, how tough the competition is, all those elements that play into it.

“Ultimately that’s why I want to do this, I want to win. I want to be on the podium at a minimum, if not win. Know that ovals are the best opportunity for myself.”

Ovals certainly were. He qualified 18th but finished sixth in what was an impressive oval debut. In fact, he was running fifth in the closing laps but due to him saving fuel, he couldn’t hold off teammate Scott Dixon for that fifth spot in the end. 

“What a two-day adventure this has been,” a very happy Johnson said. “To be able to get enough laps in the race, to feel the tires from start to finish, green flag stops, being in dirty air, just how uncomfortable and treacherous that is. All of those little mistakes and little moments gave me a sense of the car and helped me feel really how to drive this car, how to create speed.

“Second half of the race I started working my way forward in that final stint, had a very competitive car. Wished that I had maybe started the race a little further forward. I think I could have finished a little further forward.

“It’s honestly the icing on top of the cake. The cake is I know what I did behind the wheel today, the growth I’ve had in the race car. That’s the part I’m savoring the most right now.

“I do enjoy the congratulations from others, but I’m almost speechless myself, just kind of savoring it and taking it in.”

Still, a sixth place run is his first top 10 in INDYCAR. He says that he has no qualms with choosing the path to what races to run here in the series as he now knows on where to improve. 

“In some respects there’s validation, in other respects there’s relief, in another respect there’s just plain old I like to go racing,” he said. “It’s a bit of everything.

“I honestly don’t have anything to prove to anyone. I’m truly doing this because I want to race cars and I want to race in the INDYCAR SERIES.

“Of course I’m a competitor, of course I knew that I should run better on ovals, and was able to do that this weekend. That feels good. I don’t have some axe to grind. I don’t have a point to prove. I’m just going racing. I’m just purely happy I had a great day in the race car.”

Does this finish though set up what could be a great Month of May? All four Ganassi cars finished in the top seven here on Sunday and with a sixth place run in his oval debut, does that bode well for his Indy 500 race winning aspirations?

“I’m not against that. Let’s go,” he said. “I think today just showed what the 48 car is capable of. We all know what the Chip Ganassi cars are capable of. I just haven’t been fast enough on the street and road courses to put the car in that window and get results.

“To be here on a track I know, an environment that I know, I was able to provide and do that for the team. I feel very excited about it, very encouraged about the remaining oval races that are on the books.

“I know I’m going to have a great car. We’ll see how it goes.”

Does he legitimately think he can be an Indy 500 winner?

“I feel like that’s an aggressive statement, for sure. But why not?” Johnson said. “Why can’t we? The 500 is a special race. We’ve seen favorites win. We’ve seen the race won by strategy, first-time winners, a variety of different things that have taken place.

“Helio is like ages older than me and he won last year. Really, anything’s possible. Building off today, if I had a poor running today or didn’t feel the car, get a sense of the car, I would think the hill to climb during the month of May would be much steeper. Learning what I did today, I’m going to start at such a better spot.

“If the race was 50 laps longer, I think I would have finished further forward. If I started 10th, the way the track played out, my result would have been better than a sixth.

“Why not? Let’s dream big.”

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