Ten with Townsend: First 3 2016 races debrief

Photo: IndyCar

The fourth season of the MotorSportsTalk original series “Ten with Townsend” – a 10-question Q&A with NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell – is back this week following the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, and heading into this weekend’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

A full archive of past posts is linked here and we thank Townsend for his time and insights.

Here’s the breakdown after Sunday’s race, where Simon Pagenaud won on a controversial call of a warning only, and after T-Bell had his birthday on Tuesday:

Well, INDYCAR’s new Race Control has had its first “in the crosshairs” moment of 2016. What did you make of the communication process about how the incident was being reviewed, and then the call of Official Warning only itself?

I wish every rule was matched with a singular absolute penalty. Would be easier for everyone including Race Control. For instance, speeding on pit lane: drive through. Non-negotiable…every time. As opposed to three possible different outcomes.

Purely in your opinion, do Warnings make sense to have in the Rulebook and Penalty Guidelines? Or do you think that opens it up to too much gray area, even inadvertently?

No. I think as a society we are accustomed to a more black/white policy. If you step out of bounds in the NFL it doesn’t matter if you are 40 points down or tied, whether you stepped out by 1 inch or 3 feet. You simply stepped out of bounds, and that’s all that matters.

We are now three races into the season. Have you been surprised or concerned with how the quality of racing has been thus far?

Long Beach was a little bland, but I thought St. Pete and PIR were pretty strong, entertaining races. Not every event is going to be sensational. That’s OK with me. I still watch soccer and baseball.

What do you make of the whole Chevrolet vs. Honda dynamic thus far in 2016? Is it down to teams, engineering, setups or a combination?

I think it really looks close on street and road circuits. Remember too that Ganassi and Penske are always strong, so the fact that their six big guns are always up front should come as no surprise.

Simon Pagenaud’s start – you had to figure he’d be better in year two with Penske, but did you think he’d start this much stronger?

I didn’t think he was off much last year. Sometimes you just need the ball to roll your way and he has the momentum working for him now. Can’t wait to see how the team dynamic evolves now with all four Penske drivers expecting to be the champion.

Since Scott Dixon has started stronger this year, does that make it an even scarier proposition for the second half of the season when Ganassi usually hits their second half stride?

I should think so.

Through three races, how do you rate the rookie class this year?

No big mistakes from any of them so far so that’s impressive. One with Ganassi, One with Andretti, and I’d like to see what Conor Daly could do in a Penske.

Biggest surprise thus far through three races?

Robin Miller hasn’t cursed on TV… yet.

As we head to Barber this week, how do you think the racing will change at all as we head to our first permanent road course event of the season?

Based on how close the times were at the test, it should be very tight again. The challenge comes when the reds go on for qualifying, because everyone is dealing with the adjustments on the fly having never tested them each weekend. It really favors the big multi-car teams and makes it very tough for Rahal.

Andretti and Bell make partner announcement. Photo: INDYCAR
Andretti and Bell make partner announcement. Photo: IndyCar

With your Indy 500 partner announcement out of the way, what kind of fun things can we expect from California Pizza Kitchen and Robert Graham NYC?

Wouldn’t be any fun if we told you! Stay tuned…

Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023; leaves open possibility of returning at Ganassi

Jimmie Johnson race 2023
Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Though he remains uncertain of his plans for next year, Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023, scaling back his schedule after running a full 17-race NTT IndyCar Series season.

“This was a difficult choice for me, but in my heart, I know it’s the right one,” Johnson said in a statement Monday morning. “I’m not exactly sure what the next chapter holds, but if an opportunity comes along that makes sense, I will consider it. I still have a bucket list of racing events I would like to take part in. Competing at this level in IndyCar has been such a great experience.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better team to race for than Chip Ganassi and Chip Ganassi Racing. Everyone worked extremely hard for the last two seasons, pushing to get the best performances out of me every single week. The support from my crew and teammates Dario (Franchitti), Scott (Dixon), Tony (Kanaan), Marcus (Ericsson) and Alex (Palou) went above and beyond anything I could have ever asked for.”

WHAT’S NEXT FOR JIMMIE JOHNSON: An analysis of his racing options for the 2023 season

Driving the No. 48 Dallara-Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing, Johnson ranked 21st in the 2022 points standings with a career-best fifth place July 24 at Iowa Speedway.

After running only road and street courses for Ganassi in 2021, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion added ovals this year. In his Indy 500 debut, he qualified 12th and finished 28th after a late crash.

“I do have a desire to go back (to IndyCar), it’s just at this point, I know what’s required to do a full schedule, and I don’t have that in me,” Johnson told AP. “I don’t have that passion that I need for myself to commit myself to a full season.”

That leaves open the concept of Johnson returning part time with Ganassi, perhaps exclusively on ovals.

“We are fully supportive of Jimmie,” team owner Chip Ganassi said in a statement. “He has been a valued member of our team and if we can find a way to continue working together, we would like to do so.”

During IndyCar’s season finale race weekend, Johnson told reporters Sept. 9 that he planned to explore his options with wife Chandra and daughters Evie and Lydia. Johnson told the Associated Press that his family is considering living abroad for a year or two, and he has toyed with the idea of running in the World Endurance Championship sports car series because of its international locales.

Johnson hasn’t ruled out IndyCar, IMSA sports cars or even a cameo in NASCAR next year. Since retiring from full-time NASCAR after the 2020 season, he has entered the endurance races of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac (including Saturday’s Petit Le Mans season finale). Johnson also wants to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and is a prime candidate for the Garage 56 entry (a joint project of NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports).

Johnson told the AP he is interested in becoming the latest driver to try “The Double” and run both the Coca-Cola 600 and Indy 500 on the same day (the most recent was Kurt Busch in 2014).

“You know me and endurance sports, and ‘The Double’ sounds awesome,” Johnson, a four-time Coke 600 winner, told AP. “I’ve always had this respect for the guys who have done ‘The Double.’ I would say it is more of a respect thing than a bucket-list item, and I’d love to put some energy into that idea and see if I can pull it off.”

It is less likely that he would return to IMSA’s endurance events because its top prototype series is being overhauled, limiting the amount of inventory available for the new LMDh cars in the rebranded GTP division.

Johnson has confirmed that he would retain primary sponsor Carvana, which has backed him in IndyCar the past two years. He revealed his decision Monday during the last episode of “Reinventing the Wheel,” Carvana Racing’s eight-part docuseries about his 2023 season.

“I’m thankful for the partnership with a company like Carvana for allowing me to take this journey in IndyCar, for seeing the value in our partnership and being open to future opportunities together,” Johnson said. “They have truly showed me that there are no finish lines in life. Along with Carvana, The American Legion, Ally, cbdMD and Frank August were there every step of the way, and I couldn’t have done it without all of them. Most importantly — and the true rockstars in all of this –my family, Chani, Evie and Lydia. They have always allowed me to chase my dreams, and we are all just really excited about what the future holds for all of us. I have enjoyed every minute of these last two years.”

Said Carvana co-founder Ryan Keeton: “During the past two years, Jimmie Johnson has been so amazing to collaborate with. Our team admires his passion, hard work and commitment to continuous improvement while also having fun, and we look forward to continuing to support him next year in this new chapter.”