With co-driver Jimmie Johnson set to arrive, Tony Kanaan paces Indy 500 practice

Jimmie Johnson Kanaan Indy
Mykal McEldowney/USA TODAY Sports Images
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INDIANAPOLIS –Jimmie Johnson isn’t driving at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend, but the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion might have something big to celebrate in person at the storied track.

On the eve of Johnson’s arrival at Indy (where he will be a studio analyst on NBC Sports’ qualifying coverage Saturday and Sunday), No. 48 Dallara-Honda co-driver Tony Kanaan turned the fastest lap Thursday on the third day of Indy 500 practice.

The 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner outpaced Conor Daly (225.245), Santino Ferrucci (224.922 before he crashed and injured his left foot), Josef Newgarden (224.885) and Scott Dixon (224.666).

Though the “Fast Friday” session will feature a turbo boost of about 90 horsepower that will offer a better preview of pole qualifying Sunday, Kanaan consistently has been among the fastest, and Ganassi has led practice for the past two days (with Dixon topping Wednesday).

THURSDAY SPEED CHARTClick here to view who was fastest on Day 3

COMBINED PRACTICE RESULTSTop speeds through the first three days

“All in all I think we’re having a strong week as far as racing,” Kanaan told NBC Sports reporter Dillon Welch. “I won’t be able to sleep tonight. Tomorrow night’s going to be worse. But if I didn’t have this feeling, I’d say it would be time not to be doing this. I love it.”

With Johnson (who also will be an NBC analyst for the May 30 race), committed exclusively to the 13 road and street course races this season (most recently finishing 24th at the IMS road course last week), Kanaan is driving the No. 48 on ovals – starting with the doubleheader three weeks ago at Texas Motor Speedway (while Johnson went dirt bike riding with his daughter Lydia).

Though they have spent time together at the Chip Ganassi Racing shop for commercial shoots, Kanaan and Johnson have yet to spend a day together at the racetrack as teammates.

But Kanaan said Johnson “has been calling every day” since his Texas debut in the No. 48.

“I’m like if you wanted not to run, why did you invite me, because you’re going to bother me every bloody day,” the 2004 IndyCar champion said jokingly. “call me twice (to ask) ‘How it’s going? How’s this? how’s that?’

JIMMIE JOHNSON WATCH, RACE 3: Another day of learning at Indy GMR GP

“So he’s excited. It’s great to see how engaged he is even when he’s not in the race. So it’s been a blast. I’m pretty sure he’s going to pop up and see how it’s going. Yeah, I don’t know. Maybe he gets excited. I don’t know what’s going to happen if he gets excited. Going to have to find another car if he wants to drive the 48.”

Kanaan, who has one more race at Wide World Technology Raceway after the Indy 500, said he will be attending a couple of more IndyCar races this season to watch Johnson, “but I’ll be just another guy.

“We have (Ganassi consultant) Dario (Franchitti) there who is helping him quite a bit,” Kanaan said. “He has the best coach. But yeah, it will be interesting to see Jimmie in the timing stand.”

AJ Foyt Racing promotes Benjamin Pedersen from Indy Lights to IndyCar for 2023 season

Benjamin Pedersen AJ Foyt
AJ Foyt Racing
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Benjamin Pedersen is the first driver to land a promotion from Indy Lights into IndyCar for next season as AJ Foyt Racing confirmed Wednesday he’ll be part of its 2023 lineup.

Pedersen, a 23-year-old dual citizen of Denmark and the United States, spent last season running the full Indy Lights schedule for HMD Motorsports. Linus Lundqvist, his teammate, won the Lights title, and Pedersen finished fifth in the final standings. Pedersen earned his only win earlier this month when he led every lap from the pole at Portland.

Pedersen also ran four races for HMD in 2021 with back-to-back runner-up finishes in his debut. Pedersen landed on AJ Foyt Racing team president Larry Foyt’s radar through a “trusted colleague” and Pedersen spent most of last season shadowing the IndyCar team.

His promotion to IndyCar comes ahead of all four drivers who finished ahead of him in the Indy Lights standings, including champion Lundqvist.

“We are really looking forward to having Benjamin as part of the team,” Larry Foyt said. “His enthusiasm is infectious, and he is 100 percent committed to IndyCar, AJ Foyt Racing, and doing the best he can to win races.

“It’s been great to have him embedded with the team this past season, and everyone is excited to hit the ground running when testing begins. It is also great to have a multi-year program in place, which will help him and the team grow together.”

Foyt did not announce a car number for Pedersen. Kyle Kirkwood spent his rookie season driving AJ Foyt’s flagship No. 14 but Kirkwood is moving to Andretti Autosport. The team has not yet announced if Dalton Kellett will return for a fourth season, and a third car for Tatiana Calderon was pulled from competition after seven races because of sponsorship non-payment. Shutting down Calderon’s team removed the only semi-regular female driver from the IndyCar field.

Pedersen, however, was signed to an agreement Foyt said “spans multiple seasons as the team plans to develop the young rookie and is aligned to a longer-term plan for AJ Foyt Racing.”

Pedersen was born in Copenhagen but raised in Seattle and currently lives in Indianapolis. He said his time shadowing the IndyCar team has given him a jump on his rookie preparations.

“I’ve spent a lot of time this season with AJ Foyt Racing learning the ins and outs of making the jump to IndyCar and it’s been really nice to do that in conjunction with my Indy Lights season,” Pedersen said. “IndyCar has been my target goal since I started open wheel racing in 2016. The racing, atmosphere, fans, events, tracks, etc. are all awesome.”