INDIANAPOLIS — A year ago next weekend, Jimmie Johnson was working at the Indianapolis 500 but just not driving in it. He was part of NBC Sports’ telecast and had a role on the Peacock pit box which is located down at pit exit. Nearly a year later, Johnson was sitting in his No. 48 Dallara-Honda reminiscing about the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 back on May 30 of last year and looking at that very same Peacock Pit Box that’s here for qualifying weekend too knowing that the same location was the place that got this whole thing started.
See, Johnson showed up here last May knowing that he was in INDYCAR’s element but as far as racing on an oval, let alone the Indy 500, he didn’t think he was ready and wondered if he’d ever be. He had a lot of hurdles to even cross to consider it which is why he was just embracing his role last May.
However, being on that pit box the itch started. He wondered what life may be like if he would to return in 2022 as a member of Chip Ganassi Racing still but doing so also on Memorial Day weekend as a driver.
Now, 51 weeks later he’s staring at that pit box watching the television crew work while he flips his visor down in his light blue Carvana Honda and screeches out of pit lane to being his 1st Indianapolis 500 qualifying attempt.
2-minutes and 34-seconds later, he’s not only in the field but he’s made is four-lap average (232.398 mph) so good, he likely won’t have to requalify later. Johnson would be part of the Fast 12 Shootout on Sunday.
He just had to get through the rest of the day.
“I think the first moment I had was before I fired up to leave to start my lap, I saw the NBC Peacock pit box that I was in last year commentating, and I sat there with so much FOMO watching these guys go,” he said after qualifying was over on Saturday. “To just know what’s happened in the course of 12 months and actually be in the race car, that was a really neat moment.
“Then, of course, the photo with my family. I think the speed scared my kids. When they saw me, the look in their eyes, that or just the energy that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway brings to people, but my kids have been to plenty of races, but they’ve never looked at me like that before. That was cool.”
That’s something Johnson is enjoying about this whole experience and that’s doing this with his family. His dad is his spotter. His wife and kids are now here. Not only is he in the Indy 500, he has a legitimate shot of a pole too.
“Not to just state the obvious, but it’s pretty awesome,” he continued. “Just so thankful to be a part of the group. Watching them prepare literally since they left here last year and continually thinking of this race and it being a motto to win here before the championship.
“It’s even written in the race shop. The first goal is to win the Indianapolis 500 and then the championship. To be a part of it, to live it, to now be here experiencing it is really cool.
“I haven’t had much time to think about it and place it, but I can definitely say I’m enjoying it more. Instead of being so focused on just the work side, I’m enjoying the different moments. I’m letting my mind relax a little bit, look around and smell the roses type moments, which was not how I operated my Cup career.
“I was pretty focused and didn’t take time to savor the experience and the moment. I feel like I’m doing a really good job of that, and today exceeded expectations. Not only performance on being track, but the fan support, the energy on pit lane, and everything that I experienced today was really more than I expected. I know it’s nothing like what we’re going to see on Sunday here next weekend. So just savoring every moment that I can.”
Johnson says he’s feeling more comfortable and comfortable behind the wheel too.
“Yeah. I just think of the progress I made from yesterday morning. Granted, the conditions were pretty tricky, but I have never done a qualifying SIM lap around here and never felt the boost. There is a lot more power. When you turn the knob to that next level, it really goes.
“I just feel like I’m getting more reps, more quality reps, understanding how to use my tools. I have felt some lower drag settings, which I have never felt before. Still playing with mechanical grip and things like that. I think tomorrow’s practice session will be helpful, and then we’ll see what happens when it comes time.
“I got a shot. I don’t know what the odds are. I still feel like I’m learning and getting quality reps and getting better, so I’ll send it for sure and see.”