Jimmie Johnson IndyCar Watch, Race 1: ‘Very happy to have finished’ in debut at Barber

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Being the gracious sort, it didn’t take long – roughly 30 seconds into his first answer — for Jimmie Johnson to pivot into discussing the other IndyCar driver who made his debut Sunday with Chip Ganassi Racing at Barber Motorsports Park.

“A huge congratulations to Alex,” Johnson said, steering an interview with NBC Sports’ Dave Burns toward race winner Alex Palou, his 24-year-old teammate at Ganassi. “Kid is on it. And clearly showed he can get it done today. First off, he’s just an amazing guy. And to be his age with so much talent and so much wisdom in speaking with him is something that’s very impressive to me.

“We did have a good laugh the other day where he informed me that I’m older than his father, so I’ve been picking on him a bit since then.”

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STATS PACKAGEFull results and points standings after the season opener

Johnson probably doesn’t need any more reminders of his age as a 45-year-old rookie trying to acclimate to the highly competitive NTT IndyCar Series. But the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion seemed to find his race weekend debut for Ganassi as a much more exhilarating than exasperating experience despite some mistakes and a lack of pace (that had been completely expected).

“Very happy to have finished,” he said.

Jimmie Johnson in his No. 48 Dallara-Honda (Chris Owens/IndyCar)

After qualifying 21st (in a moral victory) out of 24 drivers, Johnson was 19th Sunday.

But unlike some other big names (such as two-time series champion Josef Newgarden, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Colton Herta), Johnson at least completed the vast majority of the race (87 of 90 laps) and reacted well from “two pretty scary moments” in the opening 10 laps.

The first was the Lap 1 crash started by Newgarden that left a debris field covering Turn 5. Johnson managed to avoid damaging his No. 48 Dallara-Honda while slamming the brakes. “There was chaos,” he said. “I bounced off a few cars, but nothing really happened to mine evidently, so was very fortunate there.”

Johnson was less lucky on Lap 9 while climbing the hill into Turn 13. Rinus VeeKay had whooshed past, and Johnson lost control in the wake. He was able to keep his car rolling under yellow but lost a lap, putting him on the defensive and in deference to lead-lap cars for the rest of the race.

But it was still “a ton of learning experiences” for Johnson, who got confused on making anti-roll bar adjustments in the cockpit and had to be coached via radio from the timing stand through the knobs and switches to reverse the changes.

“I got it tuned in, and my pace picked right back up,” he said. “I just can’t say too many times just how different this is, and how specialized this craft is, and how good these drivers are in this series.”

Six-time champion teammate Scott Dixon, who finished third, maintained that Johnson should be given until 2022 to be evaluated.

Jimmie Johnson said he accomplished one goal this weekend by avoiding being last in qualifying (Joe Skibinski/IndyCar).

“Again, I couldn’t think of anything more difficult than what he’s trying to accomplish,” Dixon said. “It takes time to progress, and once you get some laps, and even this year with limited schedules that we have on track time and tires, it just becomes very hard. You want to push, but then you also don’t want to crash the car. So it’s a very fine balance.

“Without the spin I think (Johnson) would have been a lot better off. He beat five cars. That’s awesome.”

Said team owner Chip Ganassi of Johnson: “What a great leader he is. What a great guy. Really makes me mad to know what I was up against in NASCAR all those years. Now I understand why he won seven championships. The guy is the hardest worker I know. And he never stops. He’s having a great time. He’s got a hill to climb, but he’s going to do it.”

Next week, Johnson will be in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – his first time on a tight street course with hardly any margin for error. But he was buoyed by surviving two hours at Barber, which is considered the most punishing and physically demanding track on the circuit because of its fresh pavement.

“I could have gone a few more laps,” he said. “I wasn’t totally taxed, and the training’s been working well, so I’ll heal up and get ready for St. Pete.”

Johnson said two of his biggest areas of improvement are positioning for the initial start (which was tricky as cars fanned out around him) and on restarts.

“But I learned a lot,” he said. “It exceeded expectations and was an amazing experience. I can’t wait to go again next week.”

Travis Pastrana leads flag-to-flag in Nitro Rallycross as the series returns to America

Pastrana Nitro Rallycross
Barry Chin / Getty Images
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Travis Pastrana waited until the final trip around ERX Motor Park to take his Joker Lap – a longer way around the course that all drivers must do at least once in a race – and came out cleanly to win his first Nitro Rallycross race of 2022. With this win, Pastrana is the third driver to visit Victory Lane in the first three rounds of the 2022-23 season.

“This is the closest to a motocross track,” Pastrana told Katie Osborne on Peacock. “Thank you so much for a beautiful facility. It’s been a rough start to the season and I’m so thankful to be back out here. We had a good run in the side-by-side and now for this. This is much needed.”

Another thing needed was the sense of improvement. And Pastrana earned that affirmation each time he completed a lap around the course.

“I get my lap times read out and they said ‘fastest time of the week,’ ‘fastest time of the week’ (each time around) ” Pastrana said. “This is really special. We’re a long way behind in the championship, but welcome to America.”

In a pre-race press conference, Pastrana said that as Nitro Rallycross heads back to America, it was time for an American to win and he made good on his promise. Pastrana took the early lead over Robin Larsson and let the back of his Subaru hang out, taking risks he might not otherwise take if not for his need to win.

How to Watch Nitro Rallycross

Larsson’s second-place finish completed a perfect sweep of the podium in three rounds. In fact, he has not yet finished worse than second after winning the opening round at Lydden Hill in the United Kingdom and finishing second at Strangnas in Sweeden.

Fraser McConnel rounded out the podium for his best result of the season. He finished fourth in each of the first two rounds.

Last year, Pastrana finished second in this race to Scott Speed before narrowly edging his teammate for the championship.

Andreas Bakkerud crashed in prelims, but rebounded to finish just off the block in fourth. Bakkerud won the second round ahead of his teammate Larsson.

Oliver Bennett completed the top five.

Minneapolis is the first of three rounds scheduled in the United States. Next on the schedule is Glen Helen, Calif. on Octo 30 and then Phoenix at Wild Horse Pass on November 12th. Nitro Rallycross will then head to Saudi Arabia in December to continue their 2022-23 season.