Jimmie Johnson delivered the best finish of his NTT IndyCar Series career Sunday at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, which also featured the most memorable highlight of his rookie season.
With seven laps remaining, Formula One veteran and fellow IndyCar rookie Romain Grosjean attempted to pass Johnson on the entry to the 2.238-mile road course’s famous Corkscrew turn, and their cars made contact.
Grosjean’s No. 51 Dallara-Honda went airborne while Johnson’s No. 48 Dallara-Honda made a hard right over the curbing and through the green runoff area, but both drivers were able to continue. Grosjean apologized for the collision in postrace interviews after placing third, noting that Johnson was trying to impede his progress in catching teammate and points leader Alex Palou, who finished second.
“I thought our day was over,” Johnson told NBC Sports reporter Kevin Lee. “I couldn’t believe that he threw it in there that late on me. Luckily we both saved it. I thought I lost my wrist, too, as the wheel went whipping around, but we both saved it, and I was worried about a penalty from being inside the green. But thankfully I didn’t get that penalty and was able to get a career-best finish.”
WHOA, @RGrosjean and @JimmieJohnson!#INDYCAR pic.twitter.com/10825PTKyK
— IndyCar on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) September 19, 2021
After starting 25th, Johnson finished 17th of 27 cars — two spots better than his previous best of 19th (at Barber Motorsports Park and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course). Despite finishing a lap down at Laguna Seca, Jimmie Johnson finished ahead of three former Indy 500 winners (Alexander Rossi, Helio Castroneves and Will Power) and some IndyCar winners (Felix Rosenqvist, James Hinchcliffe and Rinus VeeKay) with some of his best passes of the season.
Johnson said he started the race thinking his Chip Ganassi Racing team was “in big trouble” because of tire degradation, but “my life was so much better and so much more competitive” with the consistency of new tires on the primary and alternate compounds.
“Solid day for me here at WeatherTech Raceway,” the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion said. “Pretty racy track and very interesting race as the tires were falling off, (and) each team was trying to utilize strategy. All in all, created a lot of passing, and I really had a great experience learning how to set cars up, make passes and work my way up. A fun day and looking forward to closing things down next week in Long Beach.”
Since crashing multiple times at the Music City Grand Prix in Nashville, Johnson has avoided any major incidents while assembling a three-race streak of his best results of the season. Laguna Seca followed consecutive lead-lap finishes at Portland and the Indy GP.
NEXT: Johnson will be racing in the season finale at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, where his dreams of racing in IndyCar initially were kindled and some of his biggest career moves were hammered out (during 1990s meetings with GM Racing officials). The 16th and final round of the 2021 IndyCar season will be at 3 p.m. ET (NBCSN) on Sept. 26.
JOHNSON’S ROOKIE SEASON
The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion is racing 12 road and street course events this year. Here’s how he has fared in previous races:
RACE 1: How Jimmie fared in the season opener
RACE 2: Rough day at the office in St. Petersburg
RACES 4-5: A challenging weekend at the Detroit Grand Prix
RACE 6: One critical mistake at Road America
RACE 7: An enjoyable ride at “awesome” Mid-Ohio
RACE 8: A big bump but still having a blast in Nashville
RACE 9: Back home again and feeling racy in Indy
RACE 10: Solid weekend and winning assist in Portland
‘HE’S GOING TO GET THERE’: An inside look at Jimmie Johnson’s rookie season at the halfway mark
In 11 starts, Johnson has completed 824 of 920 laps with an average start of 23.3 and an average finish of 21.5 (two DNFs).