Jimmie Johnson not worried about poor results heading into Chase

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This situation looks awfully familiar, doesn’t it?

Going into last year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team were sputtering with results of 40th, 36th, 28th, and 40th in the final four regular season races.

Things worked out well enough for them. Now, going into this year’s Chase, they’re dealing with another rough patch: Three crashes in the last five races, with a top finish of 14th at the Brickyard 400 three weeks ago.

But Johnson is unperturbed. He’s gone into the post-season running strong and running poorly, but either way, he’s had to put what he did in the regular season out of mind and focus on the 10-race battle for the championship.

“In the past, you had a 10-race program to kind of look at, and now you almost have four categories to look at,” he said today at Michigan International Speedway before Sprint Cup practice. “So, the game has changed, for sure. But I think where I sit today and how I view the Chase and when it starts is the same even though the format has changed.

“Those ten tracks in the Chase are really probably nine or 10 of my best tracks on the circuit. And if we have a slow run entering, we’ll just deal with it and rely on the team that we’ve built and who we are as individuals in each position and step-up as need be.”

It’s been an interesting year for the reigning Sprint Cup champion. Johnson dealt with a lack of performance in the early stages of the season, but then rattled off three wins in a stretch of four races, including his first Cup win at Michigan back in June.

Now, he’s been repeatedly falling victim to rotten luck. Last week at Watkins Glen was a good example of that – Johnson was running in the Top 10 when he was spun out off of a restart with nine laps remaining. After collecting Regan Smith in the incident, Johnson had to settle for a 28th-place finish.

But with his place in the Chase already secured, Johnson’s hoping that he’s simply getting all the bad days out of the way now.

“It’s nice to have momentum entering the Chase. If it doesn’t happen, we’ve won championships that way, too,” he said. “So, we’re taking it as it comes, but it has been a very challenging year.

“We started off without the speed that we wanted. We got the speed back and then the luck left. So, we choose to look at it as we’re getting all this out of the way so we can have ten great races and hopefully it happens that way.”

Robert Wickens in the Indy 500? Bryan Herta making plans to field a car for next year

Robert Wickens Indy 500
Brett Farmer/LAT Images/IMSA
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bryan Herta wants to enter Robert Wickens in the Indy 500 as early as 2024 – a year longer than preferred as work continues on the hand controls needed for the paralyzed driver.

Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in his 2018 IndyCar rookie season. He’s worked as a driver coach for the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team since, but last year with Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai returned to racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

The 33-year-old Canadian won a pair of races (including the season opener at Daytona) driving a Hyundai Elantra N-TCR that is fitted for Wickens to race strictly through hand controls. Herta said Thursday that perfecting that technology for an Indy car in the biggest race in the world has slowed the project he’s determined to do with Wickens.

‘I’M AS HUNGRY AS EVER’: Robert Wickens’ return to racing

“I’d love to take Robbie back to Indy because I know he could do that, and I think that would be a next step for him in his journey,” Herta told The Associated Press. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the logistical side of things, hand controls, and I think we have solutions for that.”

Herta said Honda has been supportive of the process, which Herta called “one of the most important things we’ve done in racing” last year.

“We actually looked at doing it this year, but the logistics of it, the timing, it just wasn’t enough,” Herta said. “That’s not something you can rush. There’s some things that we have to work very closely with IndyCar on, and things we just have to get right. It’s a process, but I can see a path to it.”

Wickens, when told his boss was openly discussing the Indy 500, grinned widely. Herta as a team owner won the Indianapolis 500 with Dan Wheldon and Alexander Rossi.

“That’d be fun,” he said of running the Indy 500.

But like Herta, Wickens said the effort has to be both done correctly and be competitive.

“We’d like to do it right. If we started right now, can we get a car ready for the open test in April? Probably,” Wickens told The AP. “But I don’t know where the systems would be and I want to get on proper simulators to make sure its correct.

“We all want to do a proper, professional effort,” he added. “I don’t want to do it for a marketing campaign. I want to do it for a chance to win.”

Wickens later tweeted about the possibility of racing the Indy 500 and said his goal was “always to get back to the top level of motorsport” whether it’s IndyCar or IMSA.

Wickens in 2021 did a demonstration in Canada that marketed advancements for paralyzed drivers and gave him a chance to again drive. His entire life had been upended 14 races into his rookie IndyCar season, just three months after winning top rookie honors at the Indianapolis 500.

Wickens has since married, returned to racing last year and welcomed the birth of his first child, an son named Wesley whom is infatuated with both race cars and the trip to Disney he took this week during the off days at Daytona International Speedway.

Wickens, who uses a wheelchair but can stand with some support, marks a full year back racing on Friday in the season-opening IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Despite success last season, Herta made changes to his lineups and Wickens this year will be teamed with Harry Gottsacker.