Jimmie Johnson remembers early Brickyard struggles

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It seems hard to fathom now, but Jimmie Johnson wasn’t always a threat to win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Before claiming his first of four Brickyard 400 wins in 2006, Johnson earned just one Top-10 in his first four Sprint Cup races there.

“There are certain tracks that are very difficult to get sorted out and to know how to lead your team, and for me, this was one of the toughest ones that I came to,” Johnson recalled this morning at IMS before today’s sole Cup practice on the 2.5-mile oval.

“It took me a long time to get it, and the light finally turned on in my head – maybe it was, ’04, ’05. Mid-race, I’m like, ‘Man, I haven’t driven this track long since practice opened.’ I set my car up wrong and led my team in the wrong direction, and then in the race, it really dawned on me.”

But now, the six-time Cup champion is an almost regular challenger for victory whenever NASCAR’s top series visits the world’s greatest race course.

In order to reach that point, Johnson said he had to go against what he calls his “natural tendencies” as a driver. And as he said today, he still has to remind himself to do that every time he races Indy.

“I had to make a conscious effort to drive differently and I’ve been playing that movie in my head coming here and getting ready for this weekend’s race,” he said. “There are tracks where your natural driving tendencies suit you, and [Indy] just isn’t one of them for me.

“I’ve got to really change my game coming here and I’ve been able to identify [what I need to do]. I think that’s half the battle, just to understand that – don’t do what you think you need to do, try to think in an opposite manner to find speed.”

Johnson may have to go about things differently at Indy, but it’s definitely been working for him. He has finished first or second in four of the last six Brickyards.

Fernando Alonso will decide this summer whether to pursue F1 again

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Fernando Alonso said he will determine by this summer if he would consider a return to Formula One next season.

After announcing Tuesday that he will return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May with Arrow McLaren Racing SP, Alonso said “right now the Indy 500 will take all of my concentration” but left the door open for F1 in 2021.

“In my case, probably during the summer period, I’ll make a decision on 2021 if Formula One is still appealing to me,” Alonso told IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview (watch the video above). “The 2021 rules (in F1) are definitely a step forward, and hopefully things can be more mixed and not only three teams capable of winning races. So all this factors into play. I may consider that possibility.”

Alonso won consecutive Formula One championships in 2005-06 with Renault. He has 32 victories in an F1 career that started in 2001 and also includes stints at Ferrari and McLaren.

His last victory on the circuit was May 12, 2013 in Barcelona. He is winless in his most recent 110 starts, including the past 77 races with McLaren in 2015-18.

The Guardian recently reported that McLaren CEO Zak Brown said Alonso wouldn’t be returning to F1 with the team.

Alonso also told Diffey that returning to F1 from a two-season absence wouldn’t necessarily be linked to McLaren’s performance.

“I think they did well last year, and hopefully they make another step forward and close to the top three because they deserve it and are a fantastic team,” he said.

Though he is optimistic about more parity, Alonso said six-time champion Lewis Hamilton should be a favorite for the 2020 title based on preseason testing in which Mercedes turned heads with a new steering system.

“It seemed Mercedes is still quite competitive,” Alonso said. “They show enormous potential on the development side and on the progress from one year to next. Formula One is impossible to predict because many things happen in season.

“At the starting point, (Mercedes) are the favorites. When you have Lewis in the car and Mercedes with the potential they have, they have to be No. 1 probably.”