Jimmie Johnson says ‘fun meter is pegged’ despite bringing up rear in IndyCar practice

IndyCar Jimmie Johnson practice
Chip Ganassi Racing
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Being the slowest of 24 drivers was no drag on Jimmie Johnson during his debut in an NTT IndyCar Series practice Saturday at Barber Motorsports Park.

In a brief interview provided by Chip Ganassi Racing, Johnson said the morning session was “amazing” after completing 22 laps in the No. 48 Dallara-Honda (tied with Graham Rahal for most in the session.

The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion had a couple of early moments briefly running off course, but the practice was “uneventful” otherwise for Johnson as he was “just kind of building my own way into things.

“What a rush, though,” said Johnson, who went faster in the second practice but still was last on the speed chart. “These cars are so physical, so demanding. It’s not two or three laps in, and the tongue’s hanging out, panting, just wrestling this monster around the racetrack.

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“So the fun meter is pegged, to say the least. Very excited to have this opportunity in the Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing IndyCar.”

Johnson still was having fun after qualifying 21st for Sunday’s race, joking on Twitter that he accomplished his goal of avoiding last.

“This smile is not going to go away,” he said Saturday night in a video clip provided by IndyCar. “What an amazing day. Didn’t qualify last, so that’s a really good thing and a small victory for me in this journey. Today was full of firsts, red tires, qualifying session, race weekend. Just the different layers that exist.

“And I survived the day. Had a lot of fun. And really excited about my first race tomorrow. We’re back on track in the morning with the warmup session, again something new and something I’ve not been through before. Dial in our race setup and then we go racing tomorrow and have a lot of fun in that Carvana Honda.”

Alex Palou, Johnson’s new teammate at Ganassi, led the first session at 1 minute, 6.4721 seconds around the permanent road course, followed by Colton Herta (1:06.4897), Josef Newgarden (1:06.4957), Scott Dixon (1:06.5524) and Pato O’Ward (1:06.6281).

In the afternoon session, Alexander Rossi set the fastest time of the day (1:06.0797) while the Ganassi cars remained quick with Marcus Ericsson, Dixon and Palou claiming the top three spots. Former Ganassi driver Felix Rosenqvist was fifth, rebounding from an incident in the first session.

In an extremely tight session (with a second separating the top 17), Rossi managed to be 0.1393 seconds ahead of Ericsson.

PRACTICE AT BARBER: First session Second session l Combined results

“We have to do the job later on, so it’s good,” Rossi told NBC Sports’ Kelli Stavast. It was difficult there. Every new tire run, whether black or reds, got interrupted. But ultimately from when we rolled off I was happy with the 27 Napa Andretti Honda.

“It’s all good right now. We just have to see how the track evolves. It’s hotter now than it was this morning. It’s going to start cooling off again come qualifying and not react too much how it was right there. Overall we’re in a decent position for (qualifying).”

Alexander Rossi smiles while practicing Saturday at Barber Motorsports Park (Joe Skibinski/IndyCar).

It was an eventful afternoon session, which saw three red flags for Dalton Kellett, Colton Herta and Josef Newgarden, who had a half-spin late in the session after having his steering wheel pop off earlier while on track.

The worst crash was for Herta, who was OK after sliding off course and through the sand into the Turn 2 barrier.

“I just went too fast,” Herta told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “The tires weren’t up to temp and a little bit of a silly move by me to try to push that hard at that point in the run on the first lap. So yeah, it bit me, and that sucks because we won’t get to try the red tires now, but five teammates to go over with and check their data on the red tires.”

Newgarden avoided damage to his No. 2 Dallara-Chevrolet but ranking 14th in the afternoon session was frustrating for the two-time IndyCar champion who has a series-high three victories at Barber (the site of his first win in 2014).

“It was just messy,” Newgarden told Snider. “It didn’t start well. We had some steering wheel issues with the collar and it popped off in the backstretch because it was loose, and I was trying to put it back on, and the reverse happened. Thankfully everyone avoided me. Not a fun situation.

“Then we got into the session. We weren’t great to start with, and I felt we got better in the second run on black tires. Then we took another swing and weren’t very good on reds, but I think the capability of the car is really strong. We’re just not getting it together. Messy session. One of those days you put that behind you and try to figure out the right combo, and we’ll come back fresh in qualifying and hopefully execute a little better.”

Alex Palou made his IndyCar practice debut Saturday with Chip Ganassi Racing in the No. 10 Dallara-Honda (Joe Skibinski/IndyCar).

Things went much better for Palou, who will make his first start with Ganassi after a rookie season with Dale Coyne Racing.

“It’s amazing to be back racing, amazing to be in Barber,” Palou told Stavast in between sessions. “I love this place. Still only free practice 1, but it’s the best way to start.

“(Sunday’s race) is going to be really tricky. This is probably the toughest track, and 92 laps are going to be brutal. I’ve been training a lot.”

Johnson’s best lap in the first session was 1:07.9509, putting him behind Max Chilton (1:07.7654).

In the afternoon session, Johnson ran 39 laps and improved his time to 1:07.8821, which still ranked last among the 24 drivers (Rahal was next at 107.4681).

Jimmie Johnson waits in his No. 48 Carvana Dallara-Honda on pit late during practice at Barber Motorsports Park (Chip Ganassi Racing).

The only red flag was in the morning session was for Rosenqvist, who had a minor collision with the wall on pit entry.

“I was coming into the pits and wasn’t actually going that fast I was just trying to put my pit speed limiter on while I was turning into the little kink leading into pit lane,” Rosenqvist told NBC Sports’ Dave Burns. “The steering wheel kind of just flipped out of my hands. Really awkward. Stupid mistake.

“It’s what it is. It wasn’t really a matter of trying to push for anything. The heaviness of the steering in these cars. Sometimes you can’t hold one hand on the wheel without losing it. Once I lost it, I couldn’t get it back.”

Rosenqvist, who has moved to Arrow McLaren SP this season from Ganassi, told Burns that repairs would be “relatively simple,” and the car would be ready for a 2:40 p.m ET practice. Qualifying is at 5:55 p.m. ET.

Three-time W Series champ Jamie Chadwick joining Andretti in Indy NXT Series for 2023

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Jamie Chadwick, the three-time W Series champion, will drive for Andretti Autosport in the Indy NXT Series next season.

Chadwick will make her debut in an American racing series in March, driving the No. 28 for Andretti Autosport with sponsorship from DHL. The 24-year-old will become the first female driver in 13 years to compete full time in the Indy NXT championship.

Chadwick joined the female free-to-enter W Series in its inaugural 2019 season, winning two races and the first of three consecutive championships. She has been a reserve driver for the Williams Formula One team and will continue in that role in 2023. She also has driven in the Extreme E Series.

Despite her success, Chadwick hasn’t landed a bigger ride in F3 or F2, and her break didn’t come until Michael Andretti contacted her and offered a test in an Indy NXT car.

The final three races of this year’s W Series schedule were canceled when funding fell through, but Chadwick still believes the all-female series was the right path for her.

“W Series has always been and will continue to be an opportunity to be racing for every female driver, so for my side, I looked at it while perhaps I would have liked to step up maybe earlier, at the same time being able to have that chance to race, get that experience, have that development, seat time… I was constantly learning,” Chadwick told The Associated Press.

“In that sense, I wasn’t frustrated at all. But on the flip side of it, now I’ve had that experience testing in the United States in Indy NXT and this is something I’m really excited about.”

Chadwick also is expected to have an enhanced role as a development driver next season with Williams, which chose American driver Logan Sargeant to fill its open seat on next year’s F1 grid.

“Andretti Autosport is proud to be supporting Jamie alongside DHL,” said Michael Andretti. “Jamie’s successful career speaks for itself, but Indy NXT gives Jamie the opportunity to continue her development in a new type of racing.

“We’ve turned out five Indy NXT champions over the years and look forward to continuing our role in developing new talent.”

Indy NXT is the new name of the rebranded Indy Lights Series, the final step on the ladder system before IndyCar.

Andretti will field two drivers next season in IndyCar that were developed in Indy NXT: Kyle Kirkwood, the 2021 champion, will return to Andretti after one season in IndyCar driving for A.J. Foyt Racing, and Devlin DeFrancesco is back for a second season.

Chadwick will be teammates in Indy NXT with Hunter McElrea and Louis Foster. She becomes Andretti’s second full-time female driver alongside Catie Munnings, who competes for Andretti United in the Extreme E Series.