Seven-time TMS winner Johnson manages expectations for IndyCar oval debut
With seven NASCAR Cup titles and seven of his 83 Texas Motor Speedway Cup wins, some people might consider Jimmie Johnson a favorite to win his first NTT IndyCar Series oval race, which takes place at TMS on Sunday. He’s just not one of those people.
“I don’t think that’s realistic,” said #48 Honda rider Chip Ganassi Racing. “Some people can have that expectation and that’s fine. I wish that were the case. Every time you step into the new series you’re with the regulars, they’re so good at what they do. We’ve seen it when riders try to switch from different series. I certainly have higher expectations for myself, but I don’t think I’m going to show up, qualify on pole, lead the most laps and win the race.
As an oval ace trying to become a contender on IndyCar’s road and street courses, Texas offers Johnson the first opportunity since his NASCAR stint to leverage decades of expertise in the field.
“I think directionally the ovals really work in my favor,” he said. “When you go to a road or street circuit and the track is so long, it takes a long time for the rubber to come down, the level of grip changes on the circuit, the balance changes in the car. You have this moving target. Especially on a street course where you only race once a year from the first to the last lap of the race, the track changes so much. I have no experience with that.
“When you unload with a setup, I form an opinion; this session is over, the next day we have one more session, the track has changed again – I’m trying to pursue this goal. It’s an environment where the experience really pays off. I think there are fewer on the ovals. You will have all the cars on the track right away. It’s a shorter lap, the rubber goes down faster. You create a more stable environment in which I learn and adapt the race car.
So what should we expect from Johnson on his IndyCar debut on the dreaded 1.5-mile oval with 26 other drivers to manage?
“I really feel like I need to be higher in the field,” he said. “I definitely want to qualify, to have the opportunity to qualify on the oval this weekend, in the equipment that I will be in, I should be able to have a career-best starting position, and then look forward from there, try to figure out the traffic, work my way into the top 10, top 5 if possible.