Jimmie Johnson returns to scene of triumph, tragedy

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Jimmie Johnson has won eight Sprint Cup races at Martinsville Speedway, so indeed, he has plenty of happy memories from NASCAR’s oldest track.

But he also has a very sad memory as well. During the 2004 fall race at Martinsville – a race Johnson won – NASCAR received word of a small plane crash on the side of a mountain nearby, involving multiple members of Hendrick Motorsports.

All 10 aboard the plane perished. Among the lost were four members of Rick Hendrick’s family – son Ricky, brother John, and nieces Kimberly and Jennifer.

As a result, Martinsville has become a very important place for the entire Hendrick Motorsports camp. And for Johnson, it’s led to mixed feelings about the place, feelings that often depend on, in his words, “what activates [his] mind.”

“Like today, I flew up. It’s overcast. It’s cloudy. The whole week leading into Martinsville, I’ve been excited about coming here to race and feel like we have a great chance to win. I wake up this morning and it’s overcast, and I can’t help but think of the airplane incident,” he said today to reporters.

“It just kind of depends on what triggers the thought process.”

But while his feelings may shift whenever he’s at Martinsville, he recognizes that there’s a “deep pride” in winning there for HMS.

“To see Rick and his face and the expression that he has and you can sense in his voice and in his eyes – you can see how much it means to him to win here,” he said.

“It is a cool, amazing experience to go through. Rick is a very competitive guy and he likes to win races. But with all the emotion that you have here, I think we are in a good place here.”

As for the task at hand, Johnson conceded that it was a “real bummer” to lose out on what would’ve been his first win of the season last week at Fontana. Leading with seven laps to go, the left-front tire went down on his car and he was forced to settle for a mid-pack finish.

However, he did note that in years past, he hasn’t started winning races until around the midway point of a season.

“Statistically, I think the end of the year is where we heat up the most,” Johnson added. “So you know what? We have a good track here and Dover is coming up soon and there are a lot of big opportunities coming along, and with the new rules package that we have – I think that has allowed for the five different winners at five different tracks.

“It’s just a challenge right now to figure out what you need and what you want and it’s nice to see so much parity with different teams and drivers winning. I guess it would be nice if the Hendrick guys were walking away with it and we had won all the races, but there is a lot of parity out there.”

IndyCar race weekend doubleheader schedule at IMS road course

IndyCar weekend schedule Indianapolis
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
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The NTT IndyCar Series will return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the third time this season but with a weekend schedule that will put the action in front of fans for the first time in 2020.

The track’s 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course will play host to IndyCar and sports cars series over four days. The action will begin Thursday with practice and concluding with an eight-hour race Sunday featuring the Intercontinental GT Challenge and GT World Challenge America.

The NTT IndyCar Series will hold a Friday-Saturday race doubleheader called the Harvest GP presented by GMR.

ENTRY LISTS: Who’s racing IndyCar at IMS this weekend

The name is a nod to the Harvest Classic, which was held Sept. 9, 1916 to help the track stay solvent during World War I. The event had three races of 20, 50 and 100 miles (all won by Johnny Aitken) that was the only racing held outside May at IMS from 1911-93.

A limited crowd of 10,000 will be allowed each day this weekend, and those fans will be the first to experience new video boards, concession stands, restrooms and 5G wireless connectivity.

Here’s the IndyCar weekend schedule for Indianapolis Motor Speedway Harvest GP:

(All times are Eastern)

IndyCar weekend schedule: Thursday, Oct. 1

Noon — Indianapolis 8 Hour/GT World Challenge America test session
2:25 p.m. — IndyCar practice (NBC Sports Gold)
6:20 p.m. — IndyCar qualifying for Harvest GP, Race 1 (NBC Sports Gold)

IndyCar weekend schedule: Friday, Oct. 2

10:20 a.m. — Indianapolis 8 Hour/GT World Challenge America practice
1:40 p.m. — Indianapolis 8 Hour/GT World Challenge America practice
3:30 p.m. — IndyCar Harvest GP, Race 1 (USA Network, NBC Sports Gold)

IndyCar weekend schedule: Saturday, Oct. 3

10:20 a.m. — IndyCar qualifying for Harvest GP, Race 2 (NBC Sports Gold)
12:10 p.m. — Indianapolis 8 Hour/GT World Challenge America qualifying
2:30 p.m. — IndyCar Harvest GP, Race 2 (NBC, NBC Sports Gold)
5:30 p.m. — Indianapolis 8 Hour/GT World Challenge America pole shootout

IndyCar weekend schedule: Sunday, Oct. 4

10 a.m. — Indianapolis 8 Hour/GT World Challenge America race