Jimmie Johnson on IndyCar: ‘This is what I wanted to do since I was a kid’


Jimmie Johnson rekindled his childhood dream to compete in the NTT IndyCar Series actually by testing the limits of a Formula One car.

When the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion did a car swap with the McLaren of two-time champion Fernando Alonso after the 2018 season, Johnson was surprised by his zest for an open-wheel race car that once seemed his path.

“To test the Formula One car, and do the car swap through Zak Brown’s generosity and McLaren, I had an experience behind the wheel I’d kind of suppressed,” Johnson said in a Thursday interview (watch the video above) with IndyCar on NBC analysts Leigh Diffey and Townsend Bell. “I was like, ‘Wow, this is what I wanted to do since I was a kid. Looking at the tires, the speed, the power, the power to weight.

“That experience was so awesome that it really sparked this for me, and I’ve been trying to pursue an open-wheel option for ’21 and ‘22.”

Johnson will be making that transition with Chip Ganassi Racing as he wraps his full-time NASCAR career with Hendrick Motorsports this year. He still is trying to lock down the sponsorship to firm up a schedule, but the venture already has created major buzz.

During a “Coffee With Kyle” interview, Mario Andretti, who won both the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500, predicted that Johnson would be “a natural” in IndyCar.

Johnson said the crossover success of Andretti, Parnelli Jones “and many others from that generation are kind of my inspiration (for IndyCar). I have a unique opportunity where I can create options like this.

“I recall watching my heroes take their helmet and race any car anywhere in the world. Today’s racing is much different, and championships are the focus, but for me to move around and enjoy some IndyCar, maybe sports car racing at this point in my career, really comes from watching my heroes doing it.”

Before his Chevrolet ties led to NASCAR, Johnson told Diffey and Bell that his childhood dream was of racing IndyCar “since I was hanging on the fence of the Long Beach Grand Prix as a kid.”

He said he has “no clue” how he will perform on a schedule of street circuits and road courses but plans to lean on five-time champion Scott Dixon and Ganassi driving consultant Dario Franchitti.

“I’m with an amazing and am going to have the best shot that I really would probably ever have in my life to try open-wheel racing, and I’m up to the challenge,” Johnson said. “I want to be as competitive as I possibly can. To go run back of the pack is not why I’m doing this. I want to be up front. I don’t know what that journey is going to exactly look like.”

During a July 28 test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Johnson said he had trouble with sensing the rear tires on exit and still was adjusting to much shorter braking zones than in a Cup car.

“Some might call me crazy trying to pick the most intense of road racing that exists in North America, but I like a good challenge,” Johnson said. “I know what I’m capable and really excited to just race … it’s a freeing moment.

“I have no idea what kind of success it’ll bring, but certainly I know that going to IndyCar, with the amazing leadership there, the many drivers I know and have been around a long time. I can feel this vibe and brotherhood within the paddock area. That’s something I want to be part of and experience.”

Watch the video above or click here to see Johnson’s interview with Leigh Diffey and Townsend Bell.

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.

On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.

Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)