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


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.”

PALOU BREAKS THROUGH: First IndyCar victory for Spaniard

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.”

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Houston: Eli Tomac retakes 450 lead, Hunter Lawrence tops 250s


After his Anaheim 2 crash, Eli Tomac was surprised he was not injured, but despite getting knocked down momentarily, he picked himself up, rode to last week’s win and reascended to the top of the SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Houston. This is the third time in three weeks Tomac has topped the rankings.

SuperMotocross Power Rankings Houston
Jason Anderson has back-to-back podiums to his credit and sits second in the Power Rankings. – Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

Last week, Tomac finished second in his heat before winning the Main – and that translated to near-perfect points in the Power Rankings, which award 100 for a win in the feature and 90 for a heat victory. Tomac’s average was marred by the Houston accident when he finished 13th in that heat before settling just outside the top five in overall standings. Racing is about bouncing back and last year’s Supercross and Motocross champion Tomac did just that as he chases a third consecutive title.

Jason Anderson earned his second consecutive podium finish with a third at Houston. He momentarily rolled past Aaron Plessinger into second during a restart following an accident involving Dylan Ferrandis and held that position for four trips around the track until he was tracked down by Chase Sexton. Afterward Anderson faded and finished 12 seconds off the pace, but along with a heat win, he easily leapfrogged Ken Roczen and Cooper Webb, who struggled in the fourth race of the season.

MORE: Eli Tomac rebounds from Anaheim 2 crash with Houston win

Webb held his position by passing Roczen in NBC’s SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Houston. Webb has been solid in 2023 with a worst moto result of seventh in the first Triple Crown race at Anaheim 2, but in order to be considered a solid challenger to Tomac he needs to win either a heat or main this week in Tampa.

Roczen was involved in the incident that sidelined Ferrandis in Houston. Racing for eighth at the time, his bike may have sustained some damage when Ferrandis landed on his back tire, but he was not overly impressive in his heat either with a fifth-place finish. That was enough to drop him three positions in the standings, but he still has Tomac in sight.

After his disappointing heat in San Diego when he crashed and sustained enough damage to place him last, Sexton has roared back. He won the overall in Anaheim 2’s Triple Crown format and narrowed the points’ gap slightly on Tomac. Last week he yarded the field in his heat race and won by a wide margin. A modest start in the Main kept him from getting to Tomac’s back wheel early in the Houston round, and he lost a little ground in the championship.

450 Rankings

Rider Power
1 Eli Tomac
[3 Main; 3 Heats Wins]
85.20 2 1
2 Jason Anderson
[2 Heat Wins]
82.60 4 2
3 Cooper Webb 82.10 3 0
4 Ken Roczen 81.70 1 -3
5 Chase Sexton
[1 Main; 3 Heat Wins]
80.70 6 1
6 Dylan Ferrandis 71.60 5 -1
7 Aaron Plessinger 71.30 8 1
8 Justin Barcia 70.10 7 -1
9 Justin Cooper 68.00 NA
10 Adam Cianciarulo 67.40 9 -1
11 Joey Savatgy 61.20 10 -1
12 Marvin Musquin 61.00 10 -2
13 Malcolm Stewart
[1 Heat Win]
58.75 11 -2
14 Christian Craig 57.20 13 -1
15 Colt Nichols 56.50 14 -1
16 Dean Wilson 49.30 15 -1
17 Justin Hill 39.67 18 1
18 Shane McElrath 36.33 22 4
19 Brandon Scharer 34.00 21 2
20 Logan Karnow 33.33 19 -1

Supercross 450 Points

The 250 East division debuted in Houston and with only one race – and therefore no chance yet to stumble – three of their riders jumped to the top of the chart.

Hunter Lawrence had a perfect week with wins in both his main and heat. It wasn’t without drama, however, as he was forced to jump wide early in the feature to avoid contact with Tom Vialle, who was making his Supercross debut. Without a former 250 champion in the field, it is guaranteed someone new will grace the top of the box at Salt Lake City after the season-ender and it looks like it’s going to be Lawrence’s to lose.

SuperMotocross Power Rankings Houston
Jordon Smith’s last podium before Houston came four years ago in Detroit. – Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

It was more than four years ago that Jordon Smith scored his last Supercross podium in Detroit. Despite finishing second that afternoon, he was battling a wrist injury that eventually sidelined him. More injuries have followed, but Smith was a favorite to win the title in 2019 and he’s shown how well he can ride when he’s healthy.

Debuting third in the Houston SuperMotocross Power Rankings, Max Anstie moved from the 450 class last year to 250s in 2023 and the change has gone better than he anticipated. Finishing second in both his heat and main, Anstie was edged by Smith because he finished second behind that rider in their heat. That is Anstie’s first top-10 since finishing sixth at Southwick, Massachusetts last year on his 450. In that race, he scored fifth-place results in both motos.

Supercross 250 Points

Haiden Deegan proved the hype surrounding his graduation into the 250 class was well deserved and he landed fourth in his division and fifth overall in the SuperMotocross Power Rankings. In his first professional Supercross race, he finished fourth in his heat. In a field with twice the talent, he finished fourth again in the main. At Houston, he balanced aggression with patience. Now that he has a taste of that success, everyone will be watching him closely at Tampa to see if he can continue tiptoeing on the line.

Michael Mosiman, Jeremy Martin, and Vialle are tied for fifth in the 250 East division and seventh overall.

Vialle is the most notable of these three because he challenged for a podium position during the Main before making a mistake and falling in a turn. Significantly, this was not only his 250 debut, but his first time in Supercross. As with Deegan, he has generated a lot of attention for the coming weeks.

250 Rankings

Rider Power
1 Hunter Lawrence – E
[1 Main; 1 Heat Win]
95.00 NA
2 Jordon Smith – E
[1 Heat Win]
90.50 NA
2 Max Anstie – E 90.50 NA
4 Jett Lawrence – W
[2 Main; 2 Heat Wins]
89.13 1 -3
5 Haiden Deegan – E 81.50 NA
6 Cameron McAdoo – W
[1 Heat Win]
77.63 2 -4
7 Mitchell Oldenburg – W 77.00 3 -4
7 Michael Mosiman – E 77.00 NA
7 Jeremy Martin – E 77.00 NA
7 Tom Vialle – E 77.00 NA
11 Stilez Robertson – W
[1 Heat Win]
76.75 4 -7
12 Chance Hymas – E 74.50 -12
13 Levi Kitchen – W
[1 Main Win]
73.75 5 -8
14 RJ Hampshire – W
[3 Heat Wins]
70.00 6 -8
15 Max Vohland – W 69.29 7 -8
16 Cullin Park – E 66.00 NA
17 Chris Blose – E 65.50 NA
18 Derek Kelley – W 63.75 8 -10
19 Enzo Lopes – W 63.25 9 -10
20 Pierce Brown – W 61.29 10 -10

* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner and 90 points for each Heat and Triple Crown win, (Triple Crown wins are included with heat wins below the rider’s name). The points decrement by a percentage equal to the number of riders in the field until the last place rider in each event receives five points. The Power Ranking is the average of these percentage points over the past 45 days.

POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 3 AT ANAHEIM 2: Consistency makes Ken Roczen king
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 2 AT SAN DIEGO: Roczen moves up, Chase Sexton falls
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 1 AT ANAHEIM 1: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence gain an early advantage