Jimmie Johnson IndyCar Watch, Race 3: Still making progress in a 24th at Indy road course

IndyCar Jimmie Johnson Indy
Joe Skibinski/IndyCar

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.

ANOTHER FIRST-TIMER: Rinus VeeKay earns first victory

FULL STATS PACKAGE: Points, results for the GMR Grand Prix

“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.

“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.

Jimmie Johnson waits to qualify Friday for the GMR Grand Prix (Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

“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.

“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.


The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion is racing 13 road and street course events this year. Here’s how he has fared:

RACE 1: How Jimmie fared in the season opener

RACE 2: Rough day at the office in St. Petersburg

Jimmie Johnson finished a lap down Saturday, his best result in that category so far in IndyCar (James Black/IndyCar).

IndyCar Power Rankings: Pato O’Ward moves to the top entering Texas Motor Speedway


The NBC Sports IndyCar power rankings naturally were as jumbled as the action on the streets of St. Petersburg after a chaotic opener to the 2023 season.

Pato O’Ward, who finished second because of an engine blip that cost him the lead with a few laps remaining, moves into the top spot ahead of St. Pete winner Marcus Ericsson and Alexander Rossi, who finished fourth in his Arrow McLaren debut. Scott Dixon and St. Pete pole-sitter Romain Grosjean (who led 31 laps) rounded out the top five.

St. Pete pole-sitter Romain Grosjean (who started first at St. Pete after capturing his second career pole position) Callum Ilott (a career-best fifth) and Graham Rahal entered the power rankings entering the season’s second race.

Three drivers fell out of the preseason top 10 after the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – including previously top-ranked Josef Newgarden, who finished 17th after qualifying 14th.

Heading into Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway, here’s NBC Sports’ assessment of the current top 10 drivers through the first of 17 races this year (with previous preseason rankings in parenthesis):

NBC Sports’ IndyCar Power Rankings

1. Pato O’Ward (5) – If not for the dreaded “plenum event” in the No. 5 Chevrolet, the Arrow McLaren driver is opening the season with a victory capping a strong race weekend.

2. Marcus Ericsson (7) – He might be the most opportunistic driver in IndyCar, but that’s because the 2022 Indy 500 winner has become one of the series’ fastest and most consistent stars.

3. Alexander Rossi (10) – He overcame a frustrating Friday and mediocre qualifying to open his Arrow McLaren career with the sort of hard-earned top five missing in his last years at Andretti.

4. Scott Dixon (3) – Put aside his opening-lap skirmish with former teammate Felix Rosenqvist, and it was a typically stealthily good result for the six-time champion.

5. Romain Grosjean (NR) – The St. Petersburg pole-sitter consistently was fastest on the streets of St. Petersburg over the course of the race weekend, which he couldn’t say once last year.

6. Scott McLaughlin (6) – Easily the best of the Team Penske drivers before his crash with Grosjean, McLaughlin drove like a legitimate 2023 championship contender.

7. Callum Ilott (NR) – A quietly impressive top five for the confident Brit in Juncos Hollinger Racing’s first race as a two-car team. Texas will be a big oval litmus test.

8. Graham Rahal (NR) – Sixth at St. Pete, Rahal still has the goods on street courses, and Rahal Letterman Lanigan remains headed in the right direction.

9. Alex Palou (4) – He seemed a step behind Ericsson and Dixon in the race after just missing the Fast Six in qualifying, but this was a solid start for Palou.

10. Will Power (2) – An uncharacteristic mistake that crashed Colton Herta put a blemish on the type of steady weekend that helped him win the 2022 title.

Falling out (last week): Josef Newgarden (1), Colton Herta (8), Christian Lundgaard (9)