LONG BEACH, Calif — Jimmie Johnson went to bed on Friday night not knowing what his status would be for the rest of the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach race weekend. He suffered a practice crash early on in the lone practice session on Friday when his No. 48 Honda got into the tire barriers in Turn 5. Johnson, didn’t move his hands far enough away from the wheel and as a result, broke a bone right below his right pinky finger.
He didn’t know how much of an effect it would have on his efforts for practice and qualifying on Saturday as well as 85 laps of racing on Sunday.
See, Johnson didn’t want to do anything to hinder his chances of competing in next month’s Indianapolis 500. If there was a risk of potentially making his injury worse, he said that he’d sit this weekend out to ensure he could be at Indy in May.
“I’m more focused on Indy, as much as I want to be here, if I had to give this one up to make sure that I’m ready for (the May 1 race at) Barber (Motorsports Park), the test in two weeks, or the 500, I was willing to forego this,” Johnson said on the NBC Sports’ Peacock broadcast this morning.
When he was reevaluated on Saturday morning, they found his hand in a better placement as Friday. With a carbon fiber brace available, he figured he’d try it out in practice to see how it all works.
Johnson, completed only 14 laps before getting into the Turn 1 barriers. He said he was okay after the incident but felt terrible for his team to have to repair his No. 48 Honda again. Despite the crash, he was fine and tried out qualifying later.
“It’s holding up and doing well,” he told NBC Sports reporter Marty Snider. “I made some mistakes certainly trying to get better in a certain part of the braking zone of the corner. I’m just trying to reel it back in and drive laps that I knew I was capable of there in qualifying and build on that for the race.”
Unfortunately, he was penalized for impeding Graham Rahal’s lap and as a result, would qualify 25th out of 26 cars. Still, he said he felt fine in the car on Saturday and will indeed race on Sunday.
That’s great news too because Johnson had always dreamed of a day to be racing on the streets of Long Beach. The California native grew up coming coming to this race and stood along the fence line watching his boyhood idol Rick Mears do what Johnson only dreamt of what he would one day do.
Instead of going towards and open wheel route, Johnson’s racing endeavors put him in a stock car. It was the right choice. 83 wins and 7 championships later, Johnson will go down as one of the best NASCAR drivers there ever was.
However, that dream would go by the way side. No Indianapolis in an Indy Car. Neither Long Beach. Until…
Johnson knew in 2020 that his NASCAR days were numbered. He grew tired of traveling 38 weeks out of the year. He was young enough still to not fully hang his helmet up but racing on a full-time basis in NASCAR wasn’t something he wanted to do anymore.
In July of that year, he hopped into an INDYCAR to see if this could be a potential path for his next journey. It ended up being exactly what he was missing in his final NASCAR days. He’d race part-time in 2021 which meant 12 starts in the NTT INDYCAR Series. One of which was that same Long Beach track that he longed for.
It was a dream come true. While it was all new to him, he still finished a respectable 17th in the season finale. Now, he was back. He’s coming off of his first top 10 in INDYCAR a couple of weeks ago in Texas and wanted to carry that new found momentum over to what he considers his hometrack. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look ideal on his race winning chances.