Jimmie Johnson has no trouble with healing right hand during Indy 500 test

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INDIANAPOLIS — Jimmie Johnson looked every bit like a four-time race winner on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s historic oval for an Indy 500 test Wednesday.

Only this time, his blue No. 48 was an Indy car turning laps in excess of 215 mph.

The seven-time NASCAR champion climbed as high as third on the speed chart before finishing the first of two Indianapolis 500 test sessions pain free. He told reporters he has been feeling good since doctors surgically inserted a screw into his broken right hand on April 11.

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“I was surprised with how big the screw was, but the pain was just gone in such a short time after the surgery,” Johnson said on pit road. “But I didn’t have any soft tissue issues, either.”

Johnson later said in a social media video that he was pleased to finish with the sixth-best lap in the early two-hour veteran session.

Johnson, 46, still took some precautions – wearing protective padding over a wrap around his injured hand. It certainly didn’t slow down his car or his learning curve.

Johnson noted the ovals he avoided in his inaugural IndyCar season last year put less force on his hand than the Long Beach street course, where he drove with a splint after suffering the injury in a practice crash, or than he might endure in the May 1 race at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama.

Johnson finished a career-best sixth March 20 at Texas Motor Speedway in his IndyCar oval debut.

While many veterans struggled Wednesday with pit exit during a blustery session that began after a 90-minute rain delay, Johnson posted the eighth-fastest non-tow lap in the first two-hour window of on-track activity.

Johnson, of course, is quite familiar with ovals after spending 20 seasons in NASCAR’s premier series and earning 83 victories — four in the Brickyard 400.

The difference was until Texas, he hadn’t turned such fast laps in traffic. Yet he looked every bit as comfortable as Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon, and the six-time series champion said Johnson his eager for his Indy 500 debut May 29 on NBC.

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“I think seeing him here last year (as an NBC Sports analyst for the Indy 500), you already knew he made his decision,” Dixon said. “It just took him a little longer to say it.”

The test will continue Thursday with a six-hour session starting at 10 a.m. ET and televised on Peacock.

“These two days are kind of freebies for us,” Johnson said. “We shouldn’t be making any excuses come Memorial Day, and I think we’ll be OK.”

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.