Jimmie Johnson turns toward Brickyard test in next step toward racing Indy 500 in 2022

Jimmie Johnson Indy 500 test
Joe Skibinski/IndyCar

Jimmie Johnson moved one step closer to racing the 106th Indy 500 to his schedule with a successful test on his first oval Monday at Texas Motor Speedway.

“I’m definitely a step closer. I think that there are more conversations to be had with family, team and sponsors, at least another test session ahead of me before I can really make a decision,” said Johnson, “but driving the car only piqued my interest more.”

By testing at a superspeedway, Johnson now is cleared to enter a Firestone test that is scheduled for Oct. 8 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. During that session, Johnson can complete the Rookie Orientation Program, a stair-step process of turning laps in incremental speed brackets on the 2.5-mile oval.

The ROP is a formality for any Indy 500 rookie, but by receiving the approval this year, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion can devote all of his potential laps next year toward qualifying and racing the Indy 500 on May 29, 2022.

Johnson said Tuesday that Romain Grosjean also could be at the Firestone test. Though Grosjean has yet to turn laps on a superspeedway, IndyCar clarified Wednesday that the Frenchman would be allowed to go directly to IMS after his recent test and race at 1.25-mile World Wide Technology Raceway.

There are several more wrinkles for Johnson to work through for racing Indy, including sponsorship for additional races, as well as the Chip Ganassi Racing personnel required for both Johnson and Tony Kanaan, who drove the No. 48 Dallara-Honda on ovals in 2021 in the first season of a two-year contract, to run at the same time.

“There are a couple layers to it,” Johnson said. “From a team standpoint, I was pretty clear that I just wanted to do road and street courses. Car, crew, how does that all work out, and how do we pull that off from a team standpoint.

“Certainly we have the relationship with (sponsor) Carvana, and are they willing to expand to an additional race, is that another partner, how do our existing partners work. We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves. I first need to say, yeah, I’m in, before we really get into the granular details to sort it out, but that’s kind of a process. And I think after another go in the car, and especially on the track that would be the focal point, will really give me my decision and if it’s time to pursue all that.”

And then there’s his wife and two daughters, who Johnson has routinely cited as the reason he wouldn’t race ovals. He said Tuesday he regrets now pinning the decision on his family.

“I hate that I’ve joked about it over the years that it’s my family. My family is looking directly at me and my comfort,” he said. “The Indy car that we have today versus where it was five years ago is just totally different. Yes, there will be conversations, and I guess ultimately I’m trying not to say that it’s on my family and the pressure that comes with that.

“It’s my journey and my wife and kids support me in whatever I want to do. Certainly they have their concerns, and their concerns are mine. There are inherent risks when you’re driving a race car, and I’m good with that, and I’m on this journey right now to prove to myself that the Indy car is back in that inherent box of danger of driving a race car.”

Jimmie Johnson Indy 500 test
Jimmie Johnson turned laps at more than 214 mph Monday (Texas Motor Speedway).

Johnson said the steps he’s taking are right now just “a pathway to Indy” and not the entire oval schedule.

“There’s still so many hurdles between now and one event that to look at the others is tough at this point,” he said. “I will need to face that decision and that opportunity in the somewhat near future, and we’ll just see how this next test session goes and really how everything aligns.”

And he stressed he still must test the car at Indy to work through the nuances from 20-plus years of driving a stock car in circles to now handling a lighter, faster Indy car.

“In NASCAR you go fast by being on the ragged edge and having the car sideways, and I’m quickly learning and understanding that in an Indy car, you don’t set the car up to drive it there,” he said. “That’s been a pretty big eye-opener for me. In the Cup car in some respects, although you’re going slower, you’re on that ragged edge.

“My perception was I need to drive it like a NASCAR and just hang on, hold your breath every single lap, and directionally that’s not how you go fast in Indy cars. I need to go experience that at Indy. I remember watching qualifying all these different years and just holding my breath for these guys – I need to go experience that and see what that’s like for myself before I can make that decision to run in the race.”

The track was familiar – Johnson has a record seven victories at Texas Motor Speedway – but the sensation of speed was totally different. The 45-year-old IndyCar rookie hit an average speed above 214 mph, a mark that would have qualified him fourth for the 2020 race at the 1.5-mile speedway.

“It was quite significant to start, so low in the car, vision is somewhat limited, just how quick the car responds to steering wheel input was pretty new and different for me,” Johnson said Tuesday, a day after his test at Texas.

He went to Texas with a full support staff from Ganassi, where driver coach Dario Franchitti and current teammates Scott Dixon and Kanaan were there to guide Johnson through the day. The trio has a combined five Indianapolis 500 victories and Dixon, a five-time winner at Texas, was already in the No. 48 preparing to shake it down for Johnson when he arrived at the track at 5 a.m.

“There’s only so much you can do with an oval, but the awareness of the banking and how to support the IndyCar with the banking was a little different for me, and my NASCAR line had me a little wide on corner entry and exit. And Dario and Scott, I got their attention a couple times with my wide entries and had to bring that in,” Johnson said. “But once I kind of understood what to look for and how quickly the car would turn, I got into the flow of it pretty easily.”

Johnson entered IndyCar this season adamant he’d never run on an oval, largely because of safety concerns and a promise he made to his wife to stick only to road and street and courses. IndyCar’s last two fatalities, Dan Wheldon in 2011 and Justin Wilson in 2015, were in crashes on ovals and the day after Wheldon’s death Johnson had called on the series to drop all ovals from its schedule.

Robert Wickens, meanwhile, suffered a severe spinal injury in a crash at Pocono in 2018 that has left him in a wheelchair.

The risks made it easy for Johnson to build his IndyCar program around only the road and street courses, with Kanaan driving the No. 48 in the four oval races this season. That’s the deal both drivers are committed to through next season. But as Johnson fully immersed himself in the series, he quickly had the urge to at least test an oval.

He’s cited the safety advances in IndyCar, including last year’s introduction of the cockpit-protecting aeroscreen, as reason to reconsider his decision.

Grosjean, who moved from Formula One to IndyCar this season, also left ovals off his schedule this season but found himself missing the competition so much as he watched the Indy 500 on television that he ran the oval at Gateway this month. Grosjean is now on the cusp of moving to Andretti Autosport next season to run the entire IndyCar schedule, ovals and all.

Johnson seems headed to his own expanded schedule in his second season, which might not be his last in IndyCar.

“I’ll run as many years in the IndyCar that Chip will have me and I can find sponsorship,” he said. “I am having such a good time, and every rep I get in the car, I’m only going to be better. If I were to come back in ’23, I think those expectations would rise up again, and my performance would be better yet.

Jett Lawrence wins Hangtown Pro Motocross, remains perfect in 450s

Lawrence Hangtown Motocross
Align Media

Jett Lawrence remains perfect in the Pro Motocross series after recording another perfect round at Hangtown in Rancho Cordova, California. In his second start on a 450, Lawrence won his second National with his fourth consecutive moto win. It is getting increasingly difficult to find the right superlatives to describe the exploits on the reigning 250 West Supercross champion.

“The track was so brutal out there,” Lawrence told NBC Sports Jason Thomas. “The bike handles amazing even when it’s not too friendly. You had to be really patient; you couldn’t take too much. I didn’t eat enough before that second moto. I kind of lost energy halfway through, but luckily I could use technique and balance and just keep that flow going.”

Lawrence leaves Hangtown with an 18-point advantage over Ferrandis in the 450 Motocross standings, but perhaps more importantly, he climbed to 19th in the SuperMotocross standings and should he stay there, he has an automatic invitation to the Main events in the SMX Championship.

“On this track, you just have to manage,” Lawrence continued. “If you try to take too much and not respect the track, it will bite you very quickly. It was humbling on the first few laps. I got kicked on the cutout at the start of the third section, the tabletop going to the left. I had to get my focus because the boys were coming.”

Still in his first few races since returning from a concussion suffered at Houston in the Supercross series, Dylan Ferrandis finished second with results of third in Moto 1 and second in Moto 2. While Ferrandis was happy with the result, he remains hopeful that he will contend for victory shortly.

“The first moto was very hard for my physically, Ferrandis said. “I got arm pump and when you get arm pump your body gets tired. But I’m very happy because we made a big change for the second moto. We tried stuff every session today and in the last moto the bike was much better, but unfortunately I wasn’t sure what I could do with this bike because the track was very hard and difficult to pass.”

RESULTS: How they finished in the 450 Overall at Hangtown

With the rash of injuries at the end of the Supercross season, the podium was filled with heartwarming stories. Cooper Webb returned to action last week in Pala and failed to make the podium. He is steadily improving with a third-place finish in Hangtown. after finishing with a 4-2.

“It’s incredible what seven days can do,” Webb said. “Last week I felt like I was going to get lapped in the second moto. This week, I could see the leader. It was nice. I fought hard, learned how to suffer again there and that felt nice.

Moto 2 wasn’t pretty for Lawrence. On several occasions in the opening laps, he nearly high sided as he rode the front wheel through the ruts. The reward was worth the risk. By the halfway point, Lawrence had 4.5-second lead over Webb, who was embroiled in a tight three-rider battle for second with his teammate Aaron Plessinger pressuring him and Ferrandis ready to take advantage if those made contact.

It took 20 minutes for Plessinger to get around Webb and once he did, he trailed Lawrence by four seconds. But then, with three minutes remaining, Plessinger crashed and had difficulty restarting the bike, handing second back to Webb who has seven seconds behind Lawrence. Plessinger fell to fourth with results of third and sixth.

Adam Cianciarulo rounded out the top five with a 5-4.

Last week Hunter Lawrence won the overall with a 3-1. He repeated that feat in Hangtown in an exact replica of his Fox Raceway results last week. In Moto 1, Lawrence got off to a slow start and lost 10 seconds in the opening laps. Forced to overcome a sixth-place position in the race at the end of Lap 1, he once again caught the riders ahead of him when the field hit heavy traffic. For the second week, scored another 3-1 for the Hangtown National win.

“The start was crucial’ I knew I had to go,” Lawrence told NBC Sports’ Jason Thomas. “They laid a lot of water down, so I didn’t want to be behind any longer than [I was]. First hot one of the year, was a bit of a wakeup call, so I’m happy to get out of here safe and healthy.”

Lawrence’s third-place finish in Moto 1 featured a fierce battle for final spot on the podium when he caught Spain’s Guillem Farres and France’s Tom Vialle. With Lawrence hailing from Australia, the international nature of the sport was highlighted.

Lawrence left Hangtown with a 10-point advantage over Haiden Deegan in the Pro Motocross championship battle.

Click here for 250 overall results

Justin Cooper finished second in both motos to finish second overall. Hangtown represented a huge improvement from Fox Raceway where he finished fifth overall with a 5-4 finish in the two motos. Cooper pressured Haiden Deegan in the second half of Moto 1 and he earned the holeshot in the second moto and stayed within three seconds of Lawrence in that race.

“He was following me a little bit, checking out my lines, seeing where he was better,” Cooper said. “It’s disappointing to give up the lead like that but it was way better than last weekend. I will definitely take two seconds. I want to be on the top of the step. I feel like I get close to the top step but I never get it done. That’s building up the frustration – the fire. I really want to get one of these wins, so it’s time to start digging.”

Haiden Deegan earned the first holeshot of his career in Moto 1 and rode away from the field, building a four-second lead in the opening laps. Cooper trimmed the lead at the halfway point and for a while it leveled off at two seconds. Then Cooper made another charge with three to go and closed to within a second. Deegan was biding his time, however.

“I was saving a little. I knew at the end Justin was going to try and put a charge on. I let him get up close and then sent it super hard at the end to break him a little at the end.”

Deegan’s first moto win comes in only his fourth National and he remains perfect in regard to podiums this year.

“This was a dream since I was a little kid, to win,” Deegan said. “And in my fourth race, it’s gnarly. I was just sending it. I was getting a little tired at the end becasue I left my mouth open the whole time. It’s unreal; I’m so hyped. I wanted to win bad and I proved it to you guys.”

Chaos erupted in turn 1 in Moto 2 Jeremy Martin went and another rider ran over his arm. Michael Mosiman crashed further down the track on that same lap. Both riders were helped off course by the Alpinestars Medical team.

2023 Motocross Race Recaps

Fox Raceway: Jett Lawrence wins in first 450 start

2023 Supercross Race Recaps

Salt Lake City: Chase Sexton ends the season with win
Denver: Chase Sexton wins, takes points’ lead with Eli Tomac injury
Nashville: Chase Sexton keeps hope alive; Cooper Webb out
New Jersey: Justin Barcia wins muddy race; first in two years
Atlanta: Chase Sexton is back in the championship picture
Glendale: Eli Tomac wins 51st, breaks tie with James Stewart
Seattle: Eli Tomac wins and ties Webb for first
Detroit: Chase Sexton inherits win after Aaron Plessinger falls
Indianapolis: Ken Roczen gets first win in more than a year
Daytona: Eli Tomac extends Daytona record with seventh win
Arlington: Cooper Webb wins for second time, closes to two of Tomac
Oakland: Eli Tomac ties Ricky Carmichael with 48 wins
Tampa: Cooper Webb gets first 2023 win
Houston: Eli Tomac bounces back from A2 crash to win third race of 2023
Anaheim 2: Triple Crown produces new winners Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen
San Diego: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence double down
Anaheim 1: Eli Tomac wins opener for the first time

More SuperMotocross coverage

Chase Sexton is out for Hangtown
Enzo Lopes re-signs with Club MX for 2024
Record Supercross attendance reported in 2023
SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Pala
Results and points after Pala
Jett Lawrence wins Pala in his first MX start
450 Champion Chase Sexton takes back what he gave away
250 West Supercross champion Jett Lawrence ends dream career
250 East Supercross champion Hunter Lawrence overcomes doubt and injury