Jimmie Johnson undergoes hand surgery; expects to keep racing during full recovery

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Jimmie Johnson underwent surgery Monday night for the fractured right hand he suffered in a practice crash last week for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

In a social media update Tuesday morning, Johnson said he expects he will be ready for an Indy 500 test April 20-21 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the April 29-May 1 weekend at Barber Motorsports Park.

Johnson’s surgery was performed by Dr. Glenn Gaston, the Hand and Upper Extremity Fellowship Director at OrthoCarolina. Johnson is expected to make a complete recovery and should be unaffected for his planned May 29 debut in the Indy 500.

In further social videos posted Wednesday morning, Johnson showed that he had a screw inserted in his right pinky finger and had begun exercises to improve the hand’s mobility.

Johnson suffered the injury during a practice crash at Long Beach last Friday when his right hand got caught in his steering wheel after an impact with the Turn 5 tire barrier. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion crashed his No. 48 Dallara-Honda again Saturday in practice and toward the end of a 20th-place finish Sunday on the 11-turn, 1.968-mile street course that is his hometown event in the NTT IndyCar Series.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver, who is 14th in the points standings through three races, said he initially considered skipping Long Beach to put a priority on getting healed for racing in the 106th Indianapolis 500. That decision was weighed despite a large contingent of family and friends on hand last weekend to watch Johnson, who considers Long Beach his hometown race having attended numerous times as a frequent fan while growing up in El Cajon, California.

The May 1 race at Barber Motorsports Park figures to be another stiff test because the road course near Birmingham, Alabama, is considered one of the most physical tracks on the IndyCar circuit, and the May 14 race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course also will be a challenge.

“If we’re talking just the Speedway, he could race there tomorrow with his hand the way it is,” IndyCar on NBC analyst James Hinchcliffe said Monday night on the NASCAR America MotorMouths show on Peacock. “The nature of that track, how smooth it is, the type of physicality is quite a bit different, so I don’t think it’ll be a problem.

“The problem is we have Barber and the Indy GP before that. Two very fast, high-speed road courses. They’re not as aggressive on the steering wheel as you see on a street circuit, the bumps on a Long Beach or St. Pete or Detroit can be a big challenge when you’re dealing with an injury like that, but I think he’s going to be OK.

“We saw Charlie Kimball a few years ago break his hand, he got surgery and was back in a race a week later. The fact Jimmie competed at Long Beach showed he’s strong enough. It’s not bothering him too much in the car, and I think he’ll be good by the time we get to Barber and certainly by the Speedway. He’s going to be OK.”

After running a partial schedule on road and street courses last year, Johnson is two races into his first full-time season in the IndyCar season and finished a career-best sixth in the March 20 race at Texas Motor Speedway.

That impressive performance in his IndyCar oval debut raised the anticipation for Johnson’s expected Indy 500 debut next month.

As he has throughout his first full season in IndyCar, Johnson has been proactive about providing a behind-the-scenes look at his injury, including this video of the first 24 hours after the Long Beach crash that included how a carbon fiber splint was fashioned.

Johnson had sought assurances that he could avoid further damage to his hand Sunday over 85 laps at Long Beach.

“I’m more focused on Indy, as much as I want to be here, if I had to give this one up to make sure that I’m ready for (the May 1 race at) Barber (Motorsports Park), the test in two weeks, or the 500, I was willing to forego this,” Johnson. “But this morning things started to improve as I worked in the cockpit, worked on the splint. And I’ve ended up in a really good spot with it.”

Alexander Rossi ‘fits like a glove’ with his new IndyCar teammates at Arrow McLaren Racing

Alexander Rossi McLaren
Nate Ryan
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – There are more than three dozen fresh faces on the Arrow McLaren Racing IndyCar team, but there was one that Felix Rosenqvist was particularly keen to know – Alexander Rossi.

The driver of the No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet is the most high-profile new hire for McLaren, which has expanded to a third car to pair with the No. 6 of Rosenqvist and No. 5 of Pato O’Ward.

And there is another layer than Rossi just being the new kid. McLaren marks only his second team in NTT IndyCar Series after seven seasons at Andretti Autosport, where he began with a victory in the 2016 Indy 500 and was a championship contender for several seasons.

Rossi is a mercurial talent, and when things go wrong, the red mist quickly descends (and sometimes has led to feuds with teammates). He went winless during two of his final seasons at Andretti and was out of contention more often than not, often bringing out the prickly side of his personality.

Yet there has been no trace of the dour Rossi since joining McLaren. The pragmatic Californian is quick to remind everyone he hasn’t worked with the team yet at a track (much less been in its car), and there surely will be times he gets frustrated.

But it’s clear that Rossi, who made five Formula One starts in 2015 after several years racing in Europe, already is meshing well with an organization whose England-based parent company has deep roots in F1.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” Rosenqvist said Tuesday during IndyCar’s preseason media availabilities. “I think Alex kind of has that bad-guy role a little bit in IndyCar. He’s always been that guy, which is cool. I think we need those guys, as well.

“Actually having gotten to know him, he’s been super nice, super kind. He fits like a glove in the team. I think it fills a role where Pato is kind of like the crazy guy, I’m somewhere in the middle, and Alex is the more engineering guy in the team. I think Alex has more experience, as well. He just feels like a guy who knows what he wants.

“Yeah, good addition to the team and great guy at the same time.”

There are many reasons why Rossi’s transition from Andretti to McLaren should be smoother than his abrupt move from F1 to IndyCar seven years ago. Namely, he no longer is the only newcomer to the team’s culture.

“It’s been kind of a good time to come in because everyone is finding a new role and position and kind of learning who’s who, finding everyone’s strengths and weaknesses,” he said.

But while Rossi might have questions about the team, he has none about the series. Unlike when he arrived at Andretti without any oval experience, Rossi joins McLaren with his IndyCar credentials secured as an established star with eight victories, seven poles and 28 podiums over 114 starts.

Even in his swan song with Andretti, Rossi still managed a farewell victory last July at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course that snapped a 49-race, three-year winless drought. It seems reasonable to believe he immediately could re-emerge in his 2017-19 title contender form.

“I know the series, and I know kind of everything that goes into American open-wheel racing vs. the European open-wheel racing, which is really the biggest transition,” Rossi said. “Certainly it’s the largest kind of team switch. I’ve obviously driven for different teams in the past in Europe, in sports cars, whatever, but never really in my full-time job. I’ve driven for the same organization for a very long time and have a lot of respect and fabulous memories with those people.

“So it has been a big kind of shift, trying to compare and contrast areas that I can bring kind of recommendations and experience to maybe help fill the gaps that exist at Arrow McLaren. Again, all of this is in theory, right? I don’t really know anything. We’ll have a much better idea and plan going into St. Pete (the March 5 season opener).”

He has gotten a good handle on how things work at its Indianapolis headquarters, though, and has been pleased by the leadership of new racing director Gavin Ward (who worked in F1 before a championship stint with Josef Newgarden at Team Penske). McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown also seems omnipresent on both sides of the Atlantic, making appearances at IndyCar races seemingly as much as in the F1 paddock.

“I think what’s very cool about Arrow McLaren is we do have the resources of the McLaren F1 team,” Rossi said. “They very much are being integrated in a lot of respects. It’s not two separate entities. McLaren Racing is one organization that has its people and resources and intellect in kind of everything. It’s been pretty cool to see how that can be an advantage to us in terms of people, resources, simulations, software, kind of everything. We’ve been able to kind of rely on that and use that as a tool that maybe other teams certainly don’t have.”

That will be helpful for Rossi with the methodologies and nuances of racing a Chevrolet for the first time after seven seasons with Honda.

And of course, there will be the relationship with O’Ward, who has been McLaren’s alpha star since 2020.

Rossi was in a similar role for Andretti, which raises questions about how McLaren will handle having two stars accustomed to being the face of the team. But O’Ward said IndyCar regulations should allow each driver to maintain their own style without being forced to adapt as in other series.

“At the end of the day, as much as teammates will help in order to gather data, it doesn’t mean they’re going to specifically help you in what you need because it’s a series where you can really tailor the car to what you want,” O’Ward said. “Rather than in Formula 1, (it’s) ‘This is the car, you need to learn how to drive this certain car.’ In IndyCar, it’s very different where you can customize it to what you want it to feel like or drive like.

“From past experience, I think Alex likes a car similar to what I do. I do think we have a very strong car in certain areas, but I definitely think he’s coming from a car where that other car has been stronger than us in other racetracks. I feel like if we can just find gains where we haven’t quite had a winning car, a podium car, that’s just going to help all of us.”

Though Thursday at The Thermal Club will mark the first time the trio works together at a track, Rosenqvist said he’s hung out a lot with Rossi (both are 31 years old) and deems his new teammate “well-integrated” in the simulator.

“I think the fit has been good with him, me and Pato,” Rosenqvist said. “On a trackside perspective, it’s obviously huge to have always a third opinion on things. Every driver’s opinion is valuable in its own way.”

Said O’Ward, 23: “It’s been great. (Rossi has) been great to have around. I think he needed a fresh start. I think he’s excited to really work with all of us, create the strongest package.”

Ever the realist, though, Rossi still is tempering some of his enthusiasm.

“Again, we haven’t really done anything yet other than some meetings and some team activities together,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for what they’ve done in IndyCar and also their prior careers. I think that we all bring something a little bit different to the table, which I think is really unique in terms of not only personalities but driving styles and experience levels.

“I think we have the ingredients to really be able to develop the team and continue to push the team forward to even a better level than what they’ve shown in the past. It’s been a really positive experience. Really I have nothing at all negative to say and can’t actually wait to get to work, get on track and start working together.”