Jimmie Johnson IndyCar Watch, Races 4 and 5: A challenging weekend at Detroit Grand Prix

IndyCar Jimmie Johnson Detroit
Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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Despite starting the weekend woefully off the pace at the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, Jimmie Johnson kept alive an important streak during his rookie season in the NTT IndyCar Series.

In each of his first five races on street and road courses this year, Johnson had avoided a last-place finish with his No. 48 Dallara-Honda.

On the 14-turn, 2.35-mile Belle Isle Raceway street course, Johnson qualified last Sunday for the first time this season but finished a lap down in 21st of 25 cars. That was a slight improvement on a Saturday in which he started 22nd and finished 24th.

Johnson had been putting together a solid effort and was running on the lead lap for much of the race before spinning through Turn 2 on Lap 54 of 70 and stalling to cause a yellow flag.

“Solid day,” Johnson said. “Really made a lot of improvements. Made one mistake and spun and cost myself a lead-lap finish and probably four or five spots on the track. But all in all, so many lessons learned, and I just keep stacking these pennies to get better and better.”

Johnson also had a special guest Sunday as he invited Jamin Davis, the Washington Football Team’s first-round pick (19th overall).

The former star linebacker at Kentucky has been a lifelong fan of Johnson, who spotted his interest on draft day and vowed to invite Davis to a race.

Davis, who grew up in a family of NASCAR fans, told The Associated Press that meeting Johnson was “a dream come true. The guy is so easy to talk to and now got his number I can reach out to him and set things up. Pretty cool. Everything happened so fast. H honestly didn’t think I’d have a chance to meet him.”

Johnson opened the doubleheader weekend by struggling through an extremely difficult Friday practice in which he spun and was more than 1.5 seconds off the next slowest car. His best lap was 4.5 seconds off the fast time by Will Power.

“I’ve done a lot of sim work at home and at (Honda) and nothing got me ready for the experience here,” Johnson, 45, said with a laugh. “I was just floored how technical this track is, how rough it is, how little grip there is.

“And I have a huge challenge ahead of myself this weekend. … The spin, I’m just trying to find the limits of the car and my ability. I just got into Turn 3 a little too fast and had a little too much rear brake in the car and did a little lazy spin, so it was one of those things that rookies do, and I’ll keep learning from those mistakes and getting better.”

He made “a massive pickup” for qualifying Saturday with some changes to correct a brake issue, helping shave nearly 4 seconds off his lap times.

But a mechanical problem forced a lengthy pit stop early in Saturday’s race under green for the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, who would finish 21 laps down but later said, “although the results don’t show it, we had a really productive day today.”

Johnson had extra help this weekend as Chip Ganassi Racing brought in racing veteran Scott Pruett as a driving coach.

Pruett won twice in CART IndyCar during a 10-season career that covered 149 starts, and he also made 51 Cup and Xfinity starts in NASCAR. He scored 60 victories in sports cars (including 41 with Ganassi in Grand-Am from 2002-13) before retiring three years ago to become the winemaker for Pruett Vineyards in Auburn, California, near Sacramento.

“This is a new adventure for sure,” Pruett told NBC Sports reporter Kevin Lee. “As many years as I spent with Ganassi, all the stuff I’ve done over the years with teammates and bringing them along and helping as much as I could, it seemed like a good opportunity.”

AUTO: JUN 12 INDYCAR - Raceway at Belle Isle Park Race 1
Jimmie Johnson finished 21 laps down in 24th because of a mechanical problem in Race 1 of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Race 1 at Belle Isle Raceway (Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

NEXT: Johnson will be making his debut June 20 at the famed Road America course in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, which will play host to the ninth race in the 2021 season at noon ET (NBCSN).


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:

RACE 1: How Jimmie fared in the season opener

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