Jimmie Johnson finished 24th of 25 drivers Saturday in the GMR Indy Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course — but as usual, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion was looking on the bright side.
There were no yellow flags involving the No. 48 Dallara-Honda. Johnson finished only a lap down (compared to three laps down at Barber Motorsports Park and five in the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg).
And Johnson felt as if he spent two days on the 14-turn. 2.39-mile layout in learning mode, which (as Johnson has said numerous times) is the most important part.
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“Yeah, all in all, a really good weekend,” he told reporters after the race. “Certainly an improvement on my finishing result. Still ended up a lap down but didn’t have any really big issues, or didn’t create any cautions like I did in the first two events so happy about that, and things are just starting to make more sense.
— CGR IndyCar (@CGRindycar) May 15, 2021
“But it’s still so different and still so much for me to learn to really get what I need from green flag to checkered in a race and then on qualifying just really trying to understand how to maximize the tires and get all I can out of it.”
Friday’s qualifying session was an adventure for Johnson, who needed an escape route after overcooking his brakes entering the Turn 1 corner while on a flying lap in Group 1.
“Didn’t do my best work and a little frustrated in myself,” he said Friday.
Over three practice sessions, Johnson made 57 laps and might have turned a few more if he hadn’t been penalized 5 minutes during the second session after making a lap after the checkered flag in the opening practice.
None of it diminished the experience for Johnson in his third NTT IndyCar Series start.
Feeling very happy with my progress after three races and am really looking forward to more laps in Detroit. pic.twitter.com/91V9Xfj4At
— Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) May 15, 2021
“Just learning so much,” he said Saturday. “The fun of driving one of these Indy cars … I can’t even explain it. It’s so fun. It’s so physical. It’s so intense. I’m really enjoying it.”
Johnson also was in good company at Indy as former NASCAR driver Casey Mears attended the race weekend and also made a helmet swap with his longtime friend from California.
NEXT: Johnson won’t be racing at the Indy 500, but he will be working the race as a studio analyst for NBC (with NASCAR on NBC crew chief Steve Letarte) as Tony Kanaan drives the No. 48 for Chip Ganassi Racing. Johnson will return to racing the car with the June 12-13 doubleheader weekend in Detroit.
JOHNSON’S ROOKIE SEASON
The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion is racing 13 road and street course events this year. Here’s how he has fared: