Jimmie Johnson leaves Long Beach with third crash but optimism about injury recovery

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LONG BEACH, California – Three crashes, a fractured right hand and a 20th-place finish for Jimmie Johnson in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, his hometown race in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Believe it or not, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has had worse race weekends during his racing career – just ask his former crew chief, Chad Knaus, Johnson joked Sunday.

“We had to go to a couple of backups before we got to a race, maybe Darlington one year,” Johnson told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider in a postrace interview (video above). “But it comes with it. I certainly feel bad I put the team in this position, but I’m thankful for their support and the support from Carvana and my fan base.

“This deal isn’t easy, and you’ve got to live on the razor’s edge on these street courses. There’s no margin for error. And trying to be faster, more competitive. I made some mistakes this weekend. I’ll learn from them and come back even stronger.”

The hope is Johnson also will come back healthier after fracturing his right hand by nerfing his No. 48 Dallara-Honda into a Turn 5 tire barrier during practice Friday.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver will meet with a hand specialist Monday in North Carolina to determine if the hand requires a screw. Johnson is scheduled to return behind the wheel of his race car for an April 20-21 test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in a warmup for his expected Indy 500 debut next month.

The next race is May 1 at Barber Motorsports Park, a physically demanding road course.

“I feel like what I went through this weekend I can carry on like this for the next couple of weeks until I’ll be healed up,” Johnson said.

After the El Cajon, California, native considered skipping Long Beach to put an emphasis on Indy, Johnson managed to muddle through despite a seemingly incessant series of unfortunate turns.

After being fitted with a carbon fiber splint to stabilize the injury, Johnson returned to practice Saturday morning and slammed the tire barrier in Turn 1. He returned for qualifying and lost his two fastest laps because of a penalty for impeding Graham Rahal.

After starting 25th of 26 cars Sunday, Johnson was in 17th with 12 laps remaining when he lost traction and collided with the Turn 8 tire barrier in an accident that also collected rookie David Malukas.

Despite a small fire that sparked on his right-front tire, Johnson was fine and walked to the waiting safety vehicle with a wave to the Southern California crowd (which included dozens of friends and family for the second consecutive season).

Though his team thought he had help, replays seemed to indicate that Johnson lost control in the rubber buildup on corner entry.

“I lost it so early, I’m not sure if there was contact from behind or not,” he said. “But either way, the rubber is unlike anything I’d ever seen before; inches of rubber stacked up around the racetrack, especially before that last caution. Just very interesting to figure out where to place the car and how to drive on that rubber. I think I was just wide on corner entry and potentially had my left rear in that rubber and just spun on the way in.”

Though attrition helped Johnson finish better than a 23rd in the season opener at St. Petersburg, he still came up short of matching his Long Beach debut last September.

“I thought I was going to limp to a decent finish with my hand in the situation it was in,” Johnson said. “I thought I was going to get a 16th– or 17th-place finish. Instead, I ended back up in the tire barriers.”

And back in a doctor’s office Monday – with hopefully a good prognosis for when “Jimmie-Mania” hits Indianapolis after his career-best sixth at Texas Motor Speedway last month.

“I’m not sure what is the best pathway forward, the shortest recovery time,” Johnson said. “I’ll know more (Monday) afternoon.”

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