LONG BEACH, California — Tying a career-best for the second consecutive race, Jimmie Johnson closed out his rookie season Sunday in the NTT IndyCar Series with his biggest in-race improvement yet.
After starting 27th of 28 cars in the Acura Long Beach of Grand Prix, the Southern California native finished 17th and on the lead lap for the third time in four races (after finishing a lap down in his first eight IndyCar starts).
An entourage of 80 friends, family and sponsor VIPs were on hand to watch the No. 48 Dallara-Honda in the 2021 season finale.
Home crowds are the best pic.twitter.com/wZxLf4zpDS
— Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) September 26, 2021
“So many lessons learned, so many amazing experiences had through the course of this year,” Johnson, 45, said about making the transition after 19 seasons and seven championships in the NASCAR Cup Series. “Certainly, my growth through the season was something I’m very proud of and felt very competitive and racy. Had a nice couple of races to close out the season and actually raced our way to 22nd in points (Sunday), so I’m very proud with my last few passes that I made in the race here at Long Beach and then to see the team have the success it has with all three teammates winning races. And of course, the championship going to Alex (Palou).
“Very proud to be a part of Chip Ganassi Racing. Very proud to be in the IndyCar Series and very excited for 2022.”
Next season is expected to include an Indy 500 debut for Johnson, who will be taking his first IndyCar laps on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval in an Oct. 8 tire test.
His car will be shed of the neon stripe that he carried as a rookie, which he playfully removed at Long Beach (as part of a series of social videos that also included fellow rookies Romain Grosjean and Scott McLaughlin).
Johnson said before the race that “truth be told, I thought where I am now (in performance) is where I would have started the season and just wasn’t the case. I feel good about my growth. I know in my heart there’s nothing else I could have done. The team has supported me. I’ve been working my tail off. It’s just taken a while to get it to click like I need it to, and it’s finally coming.”
The seven-time NASCAR champion said “a really good goal” is becoming a consistent top-10 finisher during his second year in IndyCar.
“In order to do that I’ve got to qualify better,” he said. “My race pace has been pretty strong for a few races now. It’s just starting so far behind. The way the cars get strung out, and how hard it is to pass. If you took my race speed and put me in 10th or 15th, I’d maintain. So I’ve got to figure how to qualify better and start there and stay there.”
Everyone @CGRTeams played a role in making my transition to @indycar an incredible experience and I’m so thankful. Special thanks to this @carvanaracing team for an amazing rookie season! pic.twitter.com/utGTPZh7gv
— Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) September 27, 2021
NEXT: Johnson will be testing Oct. 8 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, likely completing the Rookie Orientation Program in anticipation of making his Indy 500 debut next May.
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
RACE 11: Career-best finish and a big moment at Laguna Seca
‘HE’S GOING TO GET THERE’: An inside look at Jimmie Johnson’s rookie season at the halfway mark
In 12 starts, Johnson completed 909 of 1,005 laps with an average start of 23.6 and an average finish of 21.1 (two DNFs).