Jimmie Johnson ‘mind blown’ by IndyCar talent, looks forward to his sophomore season

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Jimmie Johnson ended his NTT IndyCar rookie season with a sense of awe and admiration for the skill and sensitivity of his competitors, which was clear in his voice when NBC Sports’ Leigh Diffey caught up with him after he concluded 2021 with career-best results. Johnson finished with a pair of 17th-place finishes on the permanent road course of Laguna Seca and on the streets of Long Beach in the last two races of the IndyCar season.

“I feel really good where I ended the season,” Johnson told Diffey in the interview (which you can watch above). “Truth be told, I thought I was going to start the season a little further along. It just shows how specialized these cars are. How difficult the tracks are. How competitive the series is.

“But I had an amazing experience and so many lessons learned and honestly had just a great time being an IndyCar driver.”

Johnson knew he would be racing outside his comfort zone when the season began.

In fact, that was a large part of IndyCar’s appeal.

With seven Cup championships – a record that tied two of the sports’ most iconic superstars, Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, Sr. – there was nothing to do in NASCAR except add to his legend.

He could have tried to add to his 83 victories and 36 poles. But instead, he looked around for his greatest challenge.

“I’ve spent a lifetime trying to perfect that NASCAR path, so to come in and go down the IndyCar road, the open-wheel road, the way you make speed and lap time, just how condensed and compressed those zones are around the track,” Johnson said. “One: it has been mind-blowing to me, and 2) the sensitivity these drivers have in those small, little condensed areas to extract tenths and tenths of a second.

They really are special drivers.”

If Johnson was surprised by steepness of the learning curve, it contributed to his excitement of tackling 2021 – and his desire to improve in 2022.

The NASCAR Cup series does not visit any of the 12 road courses Johnson raced in his rookie IndyCar season. Not that it would have helped much given the sharp difference in handling between a stock car and open wheel car. Heading back to the same tracks with a set of notes and newly-developed muscle memory is going to make a big difference. It will provide a little of the comfort he was denied in 2021.

“Everything was new in ’21,” Johnson said. “So to look at Sebring and think that’s my first test session for the year, know that short course, know what to expect with how rough and bumpy it is. How to take those lessons learned and apply them to St. Pete into the first couple of races. It’s been decades since I haven’t had notes. And this last year was my first year in decades in which I didn’t have notes and didn’t have anything to study, so I’m very excited for ’22.”

And as for his comfort level? Johnson is still not content to be content.

After the season concluded, he participated in an Indy 500 rookie test – the first step toward being allowed to run the most famous sporting event on any calendar. The test was cut short by rain, but testing and hopefully racing there in 2022 will allow Johnson to continue to work outside of his comfort zone.

IMSA Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta: How to watch, start times, schedule, entry list

AUTO: NOV 13 IMSA - Motul Petit Le Mans
David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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Start times, TV schedule: The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship will conclude the 2022 season this weekend with the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta, which also will mark the end of the line for the DPi class.

The premier Daytona Prototype international category, which started in 2017, will be replaced by the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with its LMDh cars that will establish a bridge to Le Mans.

For the third time in four years, an Acura will be crowned the champion in DPi as the No. 10 of Wayne Taylor Racing holds a 19-point edge over the No. 60 of Meyer Shank Racing.

Last year, WTR’s No. 10 entered the season finale with a 19-point lead but lost the title to the No. 31 Cadillac of Action Express.

Full-time WTR drivers Filipe Albuquerque and Ricky Taylor (who will be joined by Brendon Hartley in the No. 10 this weekend) have a series-leading four victories this season. The MSR duo of Tom Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves this weekend) won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and have five runner-up finishes this year.

Championship scenarios in the other four categories:

GTD Pro: Points leaders Matt Campbell and Mathieu Jaminet will clinch the title by starting in their No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R.

–GTD: There are 140 points separating the top four teams with Roman De Angelis and the No. 27 Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3 leading by 45 points.

–LMP2: John Farano is first in the driver standings by 33 points over Dwight Merriman and Ryan Dalziel. In the team standings, the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports leads by 19 points over the No. 8 Tower Motorsport (Farano’s team).

–LMP3: No. 54 CORE autosport drivers Jon Bennett and Colin Braun lead by 83 points over the No. 74 Riley Motorsports of Gar Robinson.

With the 10-hour race requiring an extra driver, several stars from other racing series have been added. In addition to Castroneves, Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay will serve as third drivers in Chip Ganassi Racing’s pair of Cadillacs.

Jimmie Johnson also will be making his last DPi start in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac with Mike Rockenfeller and Kamui Kobayashi. Petit Le Mans could mark the last start in an IMSA prototype for Johnson, who has said limited inventory likely will keep him out of the GTP category in the Rolex 24 next year.

Here are the start times, starting lineup, schedule and TV info for the IMSA Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta (all times are ET):


Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta start times, schedule, TV info

When: Saturday, 12:10 p.m. ET

Race distance: Ten hours on the 12-turn, 2.54-mile road course

TV: Noon-3 p.m., NBC; 3-10:30 p.m., USA Network. Peacock, the NBC Sports App,and NBCSports.com will have streaming coverage of the event from flag to flag beginning at noon. Leigh Diffey and Dave Burns are the play by play announcers with analysts Calvin Fish, Townsend Bell, James Hinchcliffe and Brian Till. The pit reporters are Kevin Lee, Hannah Newhouse, Dillon Welch and Matt Yocum.

IMSA.com live TV qualifying stream: Friday, 3:35 p.m. ET.

IMSA Radio: All sessions are live on IMSA.com and RadioLeMans.com; SiriusXM live race coverage will begin Saturday at noon (XM 207, Internet/App 992).

Forecast: According to Wunderground.com, it’s expected to be 63 degrees with an 85% chance of rain at the green flag.

Entry list: Click here to see the 48-car field for the IMSA Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta


Daily schedule IMSA Petit Le Mans

Here’s a rundown of the Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta in Braselton, Georgia:

Wednesday, Sept. 28

9:30 a.m.: Mazda MX-5 practice

10:25 a.m.: Porsche Carrera Cup

12:30 p.m.: Prototype Challenge practice

1:15 p.m.: Mazda MX-5 practcice

2 p.m.: Porsche Carrera Cup practice

3:30 p.m.: Michelin Challenge practice

Thursday, Sept. 29

8 a.m.: Prototype Challenge practice

9 a.m.: Porsche Carrera Cup qualifying

9:50 a.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

11:40 a.m.: Prototype Challenge qualifying

12:10 p.m.: Michelin Challenge practice

1:50 p.m.: Mazda MX-5, Race 1

2:55 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

5 p.m.: Porsche Carrera Cup, Race 1

6 p.m.: Michelin Challenge qualifying

7:30 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

Friday, Sept. 30

8 a.m.: Prototype Challenge race

9:50 a.m.: Mazda MX-5, Race 2

10:55 a.m.: Porsche Carrera Cup, Race 2

1:10 p.m.: IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race

3:40 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship qualifying

Saturday, Oct. 1

9:15 a.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

12:10 p.m.: Petit Le Mans