Jimmie Johnson exploring oval testing options to prepare for Indy 500 in 2022

Jimmie Johnson Indy 500
Joe Skibinski / IndyCar
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With the cancellation of the IndyCar round at Toronto, there will be no race added for Jimmie Johnson – but work continues toward a possible Indy 500 debut next year.

The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion told NBC Sports that he wants to test at either Texas Motor Speedway or Homestead-Miami Speedway during the next two months so he can run in an anticipated fall tire test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and complete the Rookie Orientation Program that is required to race in the Indy 500.

“We’re trying to set up a test for me to run a big oval so that I could then go to the Brickyard for the fall tire test that typically happens and go through my Rookie Orientation,” Johnson told NBC Sports. “And we’re trying to find either Texas or Homestead. I need to run one of those two first before I can go to the ROP at the Brickyard in the fall.”

Toronto was canceled in May, and IndyCar announced last week that the event won’t be replaced after considering the addition of a second race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (where the series will race Sunday at noon ET on NBC).

‘HE’S GOING TO GET THERE’: Inside Jimmie’s rookie IndyCar season at halfway

Johnson was slated to run the 13 street and road courses this season in the No. 48 Dallara-Honda with primary sponsorship from Carvana. With the Toronto Grand Prix being scrubbed last week for the second consecutive year (because of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions), he now is halfway through a 12-race slate. Of IndyCar’s remaining seven races, Johnson will miss only the Aug. 21 race at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway (which is a 1-mile oval).

“My Carvana agreement really did just cover the races in the U.S.,” said Johnson, who has a two-year deal at Chip Ganassi Racing with Carvana backing. “Toronto was going to be picked up by NTT. So I don’t have that pressure, and the team can certainly handle the NTT side and fulfill that obligation in another way. So right now, it just looks like 12 this year.”

Johnson initially had reservations about racing IndyCar on ovals. But since working as an analyst for NBC Sports at the Indy 500 and growing comfortable with the safety enhancement of the aeroscreen (which was introduced last year), his enthusiasm has spiked for racing the Indy 500 and on ovals in the future.

“The better that I do, the more Jimmie is going to want to get in the car,” Tony Kanaan, who was hired to drive the No. 48 on ovals the next two years, said with a laugh last month at Indy.

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.”