Jimmie Johnson returns to scene of triumph, tragedy

0 Comments

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.”

As expected, FIA denies granting Colton Herta a Super License to race in F1

Colton Herta Super License
Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
2 Comments

The governing body for Formula One on Friday said IndyCar star Colton Herta will not be granted the Super License that the American needs to join the F1 grid next season.

“The FIA confirms that an enquiry was made via the appropriate channels that led to the FIA confirming that the driver Colton Herta does not have the required number of points to be granted an FIA Super Licence,” the FIA said in a statement.

The FIA decision was not a surprise.

Red Bull was interested in the 22-year-old Californian and considering giving Herta a seat at AlphaTauri, its junior team. AlphaTauri has already said that Pierre Gasly will return next season and Yuki Tsunoda received a contract extension earlier this week.

However, AlphaTauri has acknowledged it would release Gasly, who is apparently wanted at Alpine, but only if it had a compelling driver such as Herta to put in the car. F1 has not had an American on the grid since Alexander Rossi in 2015, but Herta did not particularly want the FIA to make an exception to the licensing system to get him a seat.

At issue is how the FIA rates IndyCar, a series it does not govern. The points it awards to IndyCar drivers rank somewhere between F2 and F3, the two junior feeder series into F1.

IndyCar drivers have criticized the system in defense of Herta and the intense, close racing of their own highly competitive series. Herta has won seven IndyCar races, is the youngest winner in series history and has four starts in the Indianapolis 500. He qualified on the front row in 2021 and finished a career-best eighth in 2020.

Rossi, who has spent the last four seasons as Herta’s teammate at Andretti Autosport, lashed out this week because “I’m so sick and tired of this back and forth” regarding the licensing.

“The whole premise of it was to keep people from buying their way into F1 and allowing talent to be the motivating factor,” Rossi wrote on social media. “That’s great. We all agree Colton has the talent and capability to be in F1. That’s also great and he should get that opportunity if it’s offered to him. Period.

“Motorsport still remains as the most high profile sport in the world where money can outweigh talent. What is disappointing and in my opinion, the fundamental problem, is that the sporting element so often took a backseat to the business side that here had to be a method put in place in order for certain teams to stop taking drivers solely based on their financial backing.”

Rossi added those decisions “whether out of greed or necessity, is what cost Colton the opportunity to make the decision for himself as to if he wanted to alter career paths and race in F1. Not points on a license.”

The system favors drivers who compete in FIA-sanctioned series. For example, Linus Lundqvist earned his Super License by winning the Indy Lights championship.

Lundqvist’s required points come via the 15 he earned for the Lights title, 10 points for finishing third in Lights last year and his 2020 victory in the FIA-governed Formula Regional Americas Championship, which earned him 18 points.

That gave the 23-year-old Swede a total of 43 points, three more than needed for the license.

Herta, meanwhile, ended the IndyCar season with 32 points. He can still earn a Super License by picking up one point for any free practice sessions he runs this year; McLaren holds his F1 rights and could put him in a car. Herta could also potentially run in an FIA-sanctioned winter series to pick up some points.

Michael Andretti, who has petitioned the FIA to expand its grid to add two cars for him to launch a team, said he never bothered to explore potential replacements for Herta on the IndyCar team because he was confident the Super License request would be rejected.

Andretti has been met by severe resistance from existing F1 teams and even F1 itself in his hope to add an 11th team. Andretti could still get on the grid by purchasing an existing team and he’d like to build his program around Herta, who is under contract in IndyCar to Andretti through 2023.