Jimmie Johnson: We just need more time with new rules package

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Results of fifth and sixth to start the season isn’t bad at all, but six-time and defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson admitted that he was looking for more from today’s The Profit on CNBC 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

Johnson was near the front throughout the 312-lap event but couldn’t really keep up on pure speed with the leaders. After the race, he told Fox Sports that he’d been expecting a quicker pace from his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet off the hauler.

“I was in position to be third or fourth a couple of different times late in the race,” he said. “Just racing incidents happened where I lost a couple of spots and have to work my way back through the field, but all in all – OK.

“We thought we would be a little stronger unloading this weekend…It looks like we spent a lot of time focusing on closing out ’13 strong, which was what we needed to do, and maybe a couple of guys got a head start on this 2014 [rules] package.”

However, Johnson was far from being in crisis after today’s event, and said he was looking forward to Thursday’s test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway – site of next Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 – as a chance for the 48 team to unlock more speed with the aforementioned new rules package in place.

“We just need a little bit more time with this new package to dial-in our race car,” he said. “…We were very focused at the end of 2013 to close-out ’13 strong. We didn’t participate in the test sessions that took place at Charlotte Motor Speedway on the 2014 package.

“We knew it would hurt us a little bit at the start of the year and there’s a little bit of that there. But, from where we unloaded to where we raced [today] was a huge, huge difference. We even qualified real nice. So, we’re definitely on the trail. We just need a little bit more time with the car.”

Sage Karam, Tony Kanaan fastest in Monday’s practice for Indy 500

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In the second-to-last practice session of the week, Sage Karam paced the 33 drivers qualified for Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 on Monday.

Karam had a field-best speed of 226.461 mph, followed by Tony Kanan (225.123 mph), Ryan Hunter-Reay (224.820), Charlie Kimball (224.582) and Alexander Rossi (224.507).

Sixth through 10th fastest were Will Power (224.445), Helio Castroneves (224.368), Marco Andretti (224.148) and rookie Zachary Claman Demelo (224.91) and Scott Dixon (223.966).

Power and Castroneves ran the most laps of all drivers at 120 and 118, respectively.

Two other Team Penske drivers struggled to get speed out of their cars. Defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden was 28th-fastest (221.982 mph) and Simon Pagenaud, who was the slowest (220.902 mph) of the 33 cars on-track.

Pole sitter Ed Carpenter was 14th-fastest with a best speed of 223.573 mph in a 100-lap effort.

Most drivers were in race trim or were testing things for Sunday’s Greatest Spectacle In Racing such as fuel mileage, chassis setup and more.

Rookie Matheus Leist missed most of the session with an apparent electrical problem that kept him to just 19 laps.

There was one incident of note during the 3 ½ hour session: IndyCar rookie Robert Wickens crashed coming out of Turn 2 during the first hour of practice.

Wickens appeared to skim the outside SAFER Barrier, went left and then violently turned hard back into the outside retaining wall.

MORE: Wickens wrecks during Indy 500 practice

The Honda-powered machine for the Canadian driver suffered heavy damage to the right side, particularly the right front tire and the right side of the front end.

There will be no further on-track activity for the Indy cars until Friday’s final practice to fine tune things for Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

We’ll have the full practice speed chart, as well as What Drivers Said, shortly. Please check back soon.

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