Jimmie Johnson says St. Pete was ‘most confident and comfortable I’ve felt in car’

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ST PETERSBURG, Florida – Jimmie Johnson impacted the outcome of an NTT IndyCar Series race Sunday – just not quite the way he eventually wants to as a race contender.

As Johnson fought to stay on the lead lap ahead of race winner Scott McLaughlin, Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Alex Palou sliced the leader’s gap by nearly 2 seconds and turned the final 12 laps of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg into a nip and tuck battle.

But though that was the most notable moment of the race for Johnson, it didn’t dampen the spirits of the seven-time NASCAR champion who tweeted he was “as competitive as we’ve ever been” in the 2022 season opener.

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“By far the most confident and comfortable I’ve felt in the car and closest on pace,” Johnson said after finishing a lap down in 23rd of a 26-car field. “Super excited about this race and looking forward to my next street course.”

Though he fell short of his preseason goal to place on the lead lap of every race (after three lead-lap finishes in the last four races of his rookie season), Johnson was satisfied to stay clean over 100 laps on the 14-turn, 1.8-mile track where he finished five laps down and caused two cautions last year.

The opening race weekend of his first full-time IndyCar season got off to a rough start with four spins (none incurring serious damage) over three practice sessions and a mediocre qualifying effort in which Johnson blamed himself for lacking speed.

But things improved Sunday as Johnson raced as high as 12th before having to stay on the softer red tire compound longer than desired when the race dictated strategy changes for his No. 48 Dallara-Honda team.

“For myself, I know the result doesn’t show it, but I think that’s a reflection of the poor qualifying effort I had,” said Johnson, who started last for the first time in 13 starts. “Race pace was in the mid to high teens. I ran there in one part of the race, and unfortunately, the strategy just didn’t work out in our favor.”

Johnson told longtime IndyCar journalist Bruce Martin that he backed up to McLaughlin and Palou because he was in a fuel conservation mode.

“It was good,” Johnson told Martin. “When they asked me to save fuel, they caught me. When they asked me to step it up, I did and held them off. We all caught (rookie) Tatiana Calderon at the same time. I didn’t want to be in the way and affect the race, so I moved and let them go.

“After that, I got behind them.”

But he didn’t stop battling after going a lap down. Third-place finisher Will Power radioed to his team that “it looks like Jimmie’s trying to get a bit of coverage here,” and the Penske driver continued joking afterward about “a good battle between him and I; hope the TV is getting that sponsor for him.

“Jimmie was P3,” Power deadpanned. “Oh hang on, no, he was racing me. Oh, he was a lap down. Sorry, the way he was racing I thought it was for the podium.”

He likely would hear few apologies from Johnson, who told NBC Sports in a preseason interview last month that “the elbows are slowly getting up, and they can be out if I’m running in the top 10 on a more consistent basis.

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“But I also want to be realistic and respectful to others out there. I feel like the ovals might be an area where I’ll be more comfortable and hopefully closer to the pace and running further up the field.”

Johnson will get his first test on an oval in IndyCar with the March 20 race at Texas Motor Speedway, where he was pleased with a test last summer.

“My goal is to start the season with consistent finishes in the top 15 and then look at the top 10,” he said. “I think road and street courses, top 10s would be a big accomplishment. We get on the ovals, that changes. I clearly haven’t spent a lot of time on the oval yet, but I would think my expectations would be top 10 to start and do better from there.”

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 3 p.m. to USA Network.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III