Felix Rosenqvist outduels Pato O’Ward for first IndyCar victory

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Felix Rosenqvist outdueled Pato O’Ward for his first NTT IndyCar Series victory Sunday, making a furious charge into the lead with just more than a lap to go at Road America.

Rosenqvist then pulled away in his No. 10 Dallara-Honda to win by 2.8699 seconds in Chip Ganassi Racing’s fourth consecutive victory to open the 2020 season.

Teammate Scott Dixon had won Saturday at Road America along with the season opener at Texas Motor Speedway and July 4 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

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Rosenqvist, who shook off contact with Graham Rahal on the first lap, became the first Swede to win in IndyCar since Kenny Brack at Mexico City in 2002.

“It feels so good; i’s been a long time, and we’ve been close so many times,” Rosenqvist, who finished second twice last year as a rookie at Mid-Ohio and Portland, told James Hinchcliffe in an NBC interview. “This race was for my 10 car crew. I’ve been really proud to be part of the team this year. We’ve been really good. Every race just hasn’t had the luck until now. Today we just went all for it. Super pace, the car was fantastic.”

O’Ward settled for a career-best second place in his No. 5 Dallara-Chevrolet after the Arrow McLaren SP Motorsports driver started from the pole position at Road America.

“It was really tough,” O’Ward told NBC pit reporter Dave Burns. “The Ganassi cars had a lot of, a lot of pace. We did a really good job managing the whole race but toward the end when we got into a mix with some lapped cars and some dirty air, and that really hurt us. I gave it everything, every little bit I had. I was pushing, pushing, pushing, but I just couldn’t keep Felix behind me.

“The car was really, really good. We just missed that little extra in keeping the rear tires under us. But we’re here. We like running up front. I think we showed that we have everything to do it. I’m excited for the rest of the season.”

Alexander Rossi finished a season-best third (his first podium finish since Portland last September), followed by Marcus Ericsson and Colton Herta, who extended his streak of top 10s to four.

“It better be,” Rossi said when asked by Burns if this was the jump-start his season needed. “We’ve talked a lot about how difficult it’s been, but I think the one constant has been this 27 AutoNation Andretti Honda team. There’s never been a question of what we’re doing, why we’re doing it. It’s just been problem-solving and just keeping our foot down on the pedal and attacking as much as we can. We knew it would come good at one point. We knew our race pace was all right.

“We’ll take this. It’s not a win, but it’s a step in the right direction. It’s what we need to get the momentum going. Going to Iowa, I think we have some of our mojo back, at least a little bit.”

Santino Ferrucci, Alex Palou, Takuma Sato, Josef Newgarden and Charlie Kimball rounded out the top 10. Will Power finished 11th after being penalized for avoidable contact and spinning in the first five laps.

Dixon finished 12th after starting sixth on the 4.014-mile road course. Two slow pit stops undermined the five-time series champion’s bid to become the first IndyCar driver in 14 years to open the season with four consecutive victories. He still holds a 54-point lead over Herta in the championship standings after four races.

For the second consecutive day, the race had an eventful start as three drivers were penalized for avoidable contact on Lap 1.

The most notable was Power, who ran into Ryan Hunter-Reay in Turn 1 and Rahal on the entry to Turn 3. After being dropped from fifth to 22nd by IndyCar, Power’s miserable start continued on the Lap 4 restart as he veered off course and into a trackside sign in Turn 3 and caused another caution.

Santino Ferrucci, who collided with Jack Harvey, and Conor Daly, who hit Oliver Askew, also were penalized for contact and sent to the rear of the field after the chaotic green flag.

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
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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.”

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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.”