INDIANAPOLIS — Jimmie Johnson was just behind a pair of Indy 500 winners as Honda swept the top four spots on the opening day of practice for the 106th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
Two-time Indianapolis 500 Takuma Sato turned the fastest lap (228.939 mph) at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, followed by a 227.768-mph lap by six-time series champion Scott Dixon (who won Indy in 2008).
Johnson ranked third fastest with a 227.722 mph lap on his 77th of 79 laps around the 2.5-mile oval.
“We have a really good race car,” the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch on the Peacock broadcast after the eight-hour session that run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. “This Carvana hot rod is running really well. And (the team is) just trying to work through extremes for me. What is a low trim setting? What is a high trim setting? What is mechanically tight? What is mechanically free?
“So just kind of working through some of those big-picture things.”
With a forecast for rain threatening a noon-6 p.m. practice Wednesday, Johnson said the team focused on “macro settings” on his No. 48 Dallara-Honda.
“We’re not sure if we’ll get on track (Wednesday), and we just wanted to close the loop on a few testing items that we had from the open test and what we tried in the sim,” he said. “So all in all, a really good day. I feel like where we ended in this session gives me a lot of confidence in where we need to work moving forward.”
— Nate Ryan (@nateryan) May 17, 2022
Johnson said he spent most of the day in single-car runs “so I could feel some of these subtle changes we were making. It was nice to be out there on my own in a controlled environment.”
After slapping on new tires and filling up his fuel tank, Johnson said he spent the final 30 minutes in traffic.
“Really just kind of get the rhythm of things here,” said Johnson, whose father, Gary, is working as one of his spotters atop the roof (he gave him a wave while on track). “Very happy with the progress we made today.
Hey, pops! 👋 https://t.co/VZqjvbaeCz
— Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) May 17, 2022
“A few of the items that I liked in the open test, I was able to back that up and decide I really liked them here. Moving forward, I think we’ve got a really nice foundation to build off and a great way to start two weeks here at the Brickyard on the oval.”
Practice will continue Wednesday through Friday before qualifying Saturday and Sunday to set the 33-car starting lineup for the May 29 race (11 a.m. ET, NBC).
Despite being one of seven rookies in the field, Johnson has embraced expectations that he could win in his debut and join Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt as the only winners of the Daytona 500 and Indy 500. A four-time winner of the Brickyard 400, Johnson finished a career-best sixth in his IndyCar oval debut March 20 at Texas Motor Speedway.
He definitely is with a contending team as Chip Ganassi Racing put all of its drivers in the top 10 Tuesday. After Dixon and Johnson, Marcus Ericsson was fourth, Alex Palou sixth and Tony Kanaan ninth.
Dixon said he didn’t interact much with Johnson but was unsurprised by his teammate’s performance.
“Kind of what I expected, to be honest,” Dixon said. “He was quick at the test. He feels obviously a lot more comfortable. I think he’s done a really good job each time he’s been here. He was fast all day.
“It’s probably more of him just getting used to the traffic and understanding the flow and then also I think the biggest difference for us here is probably the washout that he’s not used to from the Cup side. I think a lot of it here is just the timing, how to time the pass. I know they were focusing on just running in traffic as much as possible today and getting used to that.”