Jimmie Johnson’s chance to become the first five-time winner of the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway went away on his final stop, which ran long and caused him to lose the lead – and eventually, the race – to Ryan Newman.
But Johnson refused to throw his Hendrick Motorsports pit crew under the bus. Instead, he gathered them all together after the race and told them not to hold back despite the costly error at Indy.
“I talked to the guys [last] Sunday night and just asked them to enjoy the pain, let it sit there, let it hurt, let it bother you,” Johnson said on Friday at Pocono Raceway, where he’ll start from the pole in tomorrow’s GoBowling.com 400. “But Monday morning, when they started hitting lugnuts and jacking the car and going through their routine that it was out of their mind.
“I asked them also to be fearless when they hopped off the wall this weekend and just do their jobs. The worst thing any of us can do that have to go out and perform is to carry something in the back of your mind mentally. That will do more damage than you can ever imagine. We had some great conversations Sunday evening.”
For Johnson and the No. 48 team, recording a second career sweep at Pocono would go a long way toward erasing bad memories from the Brickyard. The five-time Sprint Cup champion succeeded in the first half of the battle yesterday with a record run in qualifying that earned him his second pole of the year.
Considering that he won earlier this summer at Pocono, it would appear that things are looking up once more for Johnson, who holds a whopping 75-point lead in the championship. He knows that it’ll all go away when the Chase begins, but feels that additional wins now will further underline how much he and his team will be a threat this fall.
“There is nothing negative to come from the point’s lead and having a big one,” he said. “I think race wins send a really strong message too, especially late in the regular season. If we could win some races, that would be another very helpful thing for the No. 48 team.”
Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.
If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.
“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”
The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.
Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.
But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.
“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.
“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”
Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.
If #F1 wants to start looking around for an American driver, Colton Herta has a suggestion for where that search should start. https://t.co/71PVeu6aBj
Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.
A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.
“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.
“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”
During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:
–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;
–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;
–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”
–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.
“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”