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

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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.

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.