Chip Ganassi Racing driver Jimmy Johnson (48) talks with team members after his practice during Carb Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday, May 27, 2022.

Jimmie Johnson’s IndyCar career was going backward. Then he found a secret.

Indianapolis Jimmy Johnson felt his IndyCar career was lagging behind. He knew the journey would be tough—perhaps the toughest thing the seven-time NASCAR Cup champion has ever done in racing. But the gap at the front of the IndyCar field – heck, even mid-pack – wasn’t getting smaller to start this season. Its final results were deteriorating.

As an IndyCar rookie running a road and street course-only schedule, his average starting place was 23.6, qualifying last, and his average finishing position was 22.5. On the same road and street course this year? He was starting about two places behind and making about 1.5 positions worse – with average grid sizes that were roughly the same. As he looked at his qualifying results on the dash in Mid-Ohio — 27th out of 27, his fourth start last in 2022 — he’s had enough.

Johnson and his crew decided to start working on their own setup, rather than reflecting primarily on the next day’s warmup and race starting with other drivers.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Jimmy Johnson (48) talks with team members after his practice during Carb Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday, May 27, 2022.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Jimmy Johnson (48) talks with team members after his practice during Carb Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday, May 27, 2022.

“At some point, we just had to have high hopes[on the road and on the road courses]. He was going back to where he was before and tested before, and we have to start putting it together. And so on. It wasn’t happening,” Eric Coudin, Johnson’s race engineer, told IndyStar in an exclusive interview this week. does not make sense. They start acting out in desperation.

“You can tell (in Mid-Ohio), not everyone was happy. This sense of despair was evident, and so we sat down and asked, ‘Well, what we’re doing isn’t working. We What can you do to help?'”

Where the Number 48 Honda crew landed, when they exited that heart-to-heart meeting and took part in a long night’s work for Coudin, was counter-intuitive and partly common sense. Johnson came out of pre-season testing at Sebring, saying he might eventually run a somewhat similar package for his three championship-caliber teammates. After a year of going in different directions on engineering several times to accommodate Johnson’s lack of open-wheel racing experience, he gave up testing and headed to St.

And they did, but as any kid knows, you’re bound to fall over at times. But for Johnson, Mid-Ohio was once too much.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Jimmy Johnson (48) stands near his pit box during practice for the Gallagher Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday, July 29, 2022.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Jimmy Johnson (48) stands near his pit box during practice for the Gallagher Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday, July 29, 2022.

“I took some pride that I could finally run their setup, but that didn’t mean I was driving them faster. But because I could at Sebring, I then felt like, ‘Here I am, finally . I’ve got it done. I’ve made it through those odds, and that’s where I need to be,” Johnson told IndieStar. “But sometimes, it takes a 30,000-foot view to say is, ‘Hey, let’s try a different route this time, and see how it works out this weekend.’ And I’m so glad they did.

“Sometimes, a driver is asked to open (his) mind and try something new and go out of the way that we know. It’s not trying to play my teammates’ setup right now and focus on what I need to do to build up confidence at the start of the weekend, when we have so little grip on the track. At first, as the track developed, I would have found my confidence in the warmup at the end, when the track was in good shape, but unfortunately, qualifying has already happened and we are just one step behind everyone. ,

Last year’s philosophy was about finding comfort and instilling confidence. Whatever the on-track results were – great. And in his final four races of the year, he was on a roll: 19th20th17th and 17th, four of his five best finishes of the year. The change in approach this season, with the car like Scott Dixon, Alex Palu and Marcus Ericsson starting the weekend, was meant to push Johnson and help him grow, while taking him out of his comfort zone at times. went. Ideally, in some initially uncomfortable locations, he would adapt and either drive those cars or help his crew navigate the weekend to find an ideal starting spot for Sunday.

“What we wanted to do was parallel our setup philosophy with the rest of the team, so that we could communicate about the same changes throughout the weekend, all while still working on his driving technique,” ​​Coudin said. .

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Jimmy Johnson (48) gives each crew member a handshake, or high five, on Sunday, May 29, 2022, before the start of the 106th race of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Jimmy Johnson (48) gives each crew member a handshake, or high five, on Sunday, May 29, 2022, before the start of the 106th race of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

But in his weekend opening Friday afternoon this year on the green tracks, Johnson said he is often frustrated and unsure of himself. Another practice was never enough time. He may be comfortable in the warmup on Sunday morning, but by then he will be forced to make his way through the field. It can try very hard such as at Long Beach, where he crashed three times and broke his arm in the process.

Rather than initially pinning him down a bit to make him back in the long run, Johnson said he was getting more impatient.

“Of course you reflect back and think, ‘Hey, why didn’t we think about this a little bit sooner?'” Johnson said. “But then, why would you deviate from the setup of Alex Palu or Scott Dixon? But a lot of times, racing is about principles and ideas and concepts, and with so little practice and testing time, you rarely have to prove them. , or get a chance to prove them wrong.

“This is one of those examples.”

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However, Johnson is counter-intuitive to what he was feeling in the Honda simulator, where he has been spending time up late. There, Johnson has often been able to match his Ganassi teammates on laps with similar setups, while last year, his gap on the track was the same as he closed it. That dichotomy, where this year’s race week simulator timing was telling him one thing and his Practice 1 results another made things worse.

“In real life, we know I don’t challenge braking areas as much as I do in sims, so we’re trying to figure out what we can do in real life to make braking feel more comfortable.” So I can have the confidence to challenge there,” Johnson said. “Even if this in turn hurts performance, I gain a lot in braking what I am in turns. I do

“When the car was reacting too quickly, I panicked thinking, ‘Oh, I can’t spin. I’m going to lose five minutes, or I’m going to lose a set of tires, or I’m going to spin the car. I’m going to tear up and I won’t get any more practice time. How intense are these practice sessions, if I have a very reactive car, I just start defending, and I fall behind.”

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Jimmy Johnson (48) races around a turn during morning practice before the GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday, May 14, 2022 in Indianapolis.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Jimmy Johnson (48) races around a turn during morning practice before the GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday, May 14, 2022 in Indianapolis.

Coming to the IMS road course this weekend, where he has tested, practiced and raced more than anyone in IndyCar, Johnson said he was looking for qualifying performances in the “high teens” and mid-to-low on race-day. were finishing. Teenager. Friday’s qualifying performance was not like that. He 23. will startthird Saturday afternoon, around their average in 2022. But if Mid-Ohio was any proof, where he spent only Sunday’s warmup practice with the car, starting at 27th and set up his best IndyCar road course finish (16.)th), he may still have a chance to turn some heads at Saturday’s Gallagher Grand Prix.

He has done exactly that at the Ovals this year, which is 6. belongs toth In Texas, May continues strong ahead of the Indy 500 and 11. is takingth and 5th Last weekend in Iowa. In achieving those results, Coudin said, his team often forced Johnson to “stop thinking and start driving.”

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Although the number 48 driver may get there – whichever car he starts Friday with and however he heads into the weekend – that’s all that really matters in the long run. Starting an IndyCar career in your mid-40s was never quite the norm, but rather about discovering and experiencing things for the first time and learning and growing.

“Now, he is able to learn without risking some consequences,” Coudin said. “The more experience he has, the more opinion he has on what he wants, and if he takes us in a different direction, I think we have to be willing to do that. Marcus, Scott And Alex, they don’t all drive exactly the same car. Everyone has their own feel and reaction and context.

“As long as it feeds to Jimmy’s performance level, that’s the most important thing.”

This article originally appeared on the Indianapolis Star: IndyCar: Jimmy Johnson is searching for success on the road, road courses

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