What Rookies, Danica Patrick Said after Tuesday’s orientation/refresher at Indianapolis

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Here’s what rookies that had to go through orientation, as well as previous Indy 500 entrants that needed a refresher course said following Tuesday’s session at Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

MATHEUS LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “Rookie orientation done, ready to race or test. It was good fun. The ABC car was looking good today. Tony (Kanaan, teammate) did a great setup yesterday, so the car was pretty neutral and fast. I went through all the phases pretty well. The first one was 205-210 mph, the second one was 210-215 mph and then 215-plus mph. The car was feeling good all day long, so pretty happy. The feeling was not that much different than Indy Lights. The Indy Lights cars have less downforce and go 20 mph slower in the straights, but the feeling is pretty much the same. This car has more downforce, so you feel a little more comfortable with the speed, so it was not a big deal for me.  We’ll see how it’s going to be in qualifying, but so far so good. I’m looking forward to the month of May.”

ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda): “It was a tricky morning. We had a gearbox issue on my car after the first phase of the orientation. We had to scramble a little bit to get James’ (Hinchcliffe, teammate) car ready because it wasn’t scheduled to be going on track, so we had to do some quick fixes and get everything ready to go. It wasn’t ideal because we didn’t really do a seat fit for me in his car. Apart from the seat going in, everything was more get on with it, get the orientation done. We were actually a little pressed for time to get all the phases through in the time allocation we had. The guys worked hard to get the No. 5 car ready. I love it around here. It was my first taste of Indianapolis. I love the oval. I ran the (road) course 12 years ago. It was good to do my first laps at the oval, full throttle laps, flat laps. It was very special. Day Zero for us. Looking forward to getting May started. I think it’s going to be a pretty special place when there are 33 other cars on lap.”

JAY HOWARD (No. 7 One Cure SPM Honda): “Today was excellent. I’m really happy, the car feels better than it did last year which is great. The One Cure SPM boys have done a really good job with the car. I think the results early on in the season have reflected that, so it’s kind of what we expected. I’m really happy, really confident – certainly no complaints. I’m looking forward to a good month of May.”

DANICA PATRICK (No. 13 GoDaddy Chevrolet): “We started off with an install check. It’s a brand-new car, so there was a water temperature issue. Took it back to the garage. There’s only three hours today, so you burn an hour pretty quickly getting out there and getting back in, getting back out to pit lane again. Then it was out one time, coming in just to make sure everything was OK. Then the next run was just too slow. It wasn’t above 210 mph. The car, it just felt very hard to drive. The weight of the wheel was very heavy for me, so I don’t know what the heck I’ve been doing because I feel a lot stronger than when I was here before. (…) I can pick some weight up. But I did not feel very strong out there. My old engineer Matt (Barnes) ran me today. He made it easier to drive. It’s still not by any means where I want it, but it was enough that we could complete today. With 30 minutes to go and five laps of the second phase and 15 laps of the third phase together, I’m like, I don’t know if I’m going to get through this today. But I stayed out there and I did all those 20 laps to complete it all. It felt fine. Actually felt fairly comfortable at that point in time for the level of discomfort with the way the wheel felt, things like that, and with the amount of front aero we took out of it to lighten the wheel up for me. Here we go, my old words, a little bit of ‘understeer’ out there. I was going to say ‘tight’ but I corrected myself. It was definitely a little too much understeer to go really, really fast. But it was enough to complete the day and move on for tomorrow. I felt like I was able to feel the grip limit of the car, especially the front, of course, because took so much front aero out. I was really able to feel the front sliding pretty well, even with the way it felt. That’s good for me. Tomorrow, it will feel even more comfortable. But I’ve been waiting to get this day over with for a long time. I say that with love. I hope there’s some understanding for the words that I’m using. I want to get through that so I can get to the fun part, which is really running, making changes, making it faster, feeling really comfortable. It was just a day of anticipation, a level of not knowing.”

SAGE KARAM (No. 24 WIX Filters DRR Chevrolet): “It was a really good day for me. This is most comfortable I have been here at Indy in the very first day of running. I haven’t been in an Indy car since last May here.  In fact, I haven’t been in a race car since last October in sports cars. It’s been a long wait. I’m so excited to get behind the wheel. This is a new car, so it’s a big challenge for myself and the team. We had to work all of the little kinks today in just three hours. So, it is a tall task in the refresher program. We ran laps today and I feel good as we got through so much information today. We are extremely pleased at how the WIX Filters Chevrolet ran today. Usually, the cars don’t feel the best after a refresher today. But this is the best I have ever felt after day one. The car felt good coming through the refresher speeds and even better when we added speed. I’m anxious to get to the Speedway in a few weeks to get going for the greatest race in the world.”

KYLE KAISER (No. 32 NFP / Juncos Racing Chevrolet): “Overall we had a really smooth run, which is exactly what we were all hoping for. We went out and were the first to finish with our ROP testing. We only went through two sets of tires doing it and the car felt great. We had good speed considering we didn’t even get into trimming the car at all and we were running competitive times. I am really happy with the team and I am looking forward to getting back on the road course now. Then we have the month of May, which this is the big one. This was a good first taste of the oval and I am looking forward to more this month.”

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

Jimmie Johnson race 2023
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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.”