Jimmie Johnson earns career-best IndyCar finish after hard fight with teammate Ericsson

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NEWTON, Iowa – Jimmie Johnson has grown accustomed to having “given way” to his teammates but declined to yield Sunday en route to a career-best IndyCar finish – even with a championship at stake.

After battling with Marcus Ericsson tooth and nail for more than 50 laps around Iowa Speedway, Johnson finally nosed ahead of his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate – and the IndyCar points leader – for fifth place.

Though it was “a really special day” for the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, Johnson said he was motivated to earn his first top five because he felt he should have passed another teammate earlier on the way to a breakthrough podium finish.

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“I’ve raced my teammates with the most respect that I possibly can,” Johnson told NBC Sports. “Every race I’ve been in, I’ve just given way, and that was really the first time I fought for position, and it was because I felt like I should have been up there passing (Scott Dixon, who finished fourth). I made a mistake and got up in the marbles, and I really felt a podium was in our reach, but today,  I had it in me. I raced everybody clean and hard, and that was just had an awesome day.”

After impressing his rivals by leading 19 laps and rallying for 11th after a Lap 16 spin Saturday, Johnson put on an even steadier show in his No. 48 Dallara-Honda on the 0.894-mile oval.

Even Ericsson couldn’t be upset with his teammate despite losing two points in the standings on Johnson’s late pass (the Indy 500 winner still leads the championship by eight points over Will Power, Sunday’s runner-up).

“(Johnson) has a couple of more oval races than me under his belt,” Ericsson, who raced in road racing-based F1 before IndyCar, said with a smile. “I think that’s what I was thinking when he was battling me. All the time I was trying to sort of make him go in my dirty air. Every time I looked in my mirror, he was inside, out, inside, out. Oh, my God. Stay behind me, please, dirty air.

“No, it was really fun. I knew that it would be a clean fight and a hard fight. I think that’s what we did for pretty much a long time there. He went up in the gray there once. I got the position back. Let’s go again. He was just a bit too strong for me today. He deserved the top-five finish.”

It was a reversal of fortune for Johnson, who typically lags behind his Ganassi teammates on road and street courses but quickly has gotten acclimated to ovals in his first full season in IndyCar.

After a sixth place March 20 at Texas Motor Speedway in his oval debut, Johnson had a strong May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway until crashing late in the Indy 500. He will have one more shot at an oval podium this season in the Aug. 20 race at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.

Johnson said Iowa was the closest approximation to the feel he had in NASCAR’s premier series, where 82 of his 83 career wins were on ovals.

“I’m understanding how these cars reward aggression, the confidence it takes to having yourself and the car that’s going to stick,” Johnson said. “The faster you go, the more downforce these cars create. It takes a lot of energy to turn these tires on and make them perform like they need to.

“I just think I’ve been on the soft side of this since I’ve ever sat in a car. The ovals feel more natural to me and I’m able to find my confidence, push the car, have the downforce and the tire work for me. But the street and road courses, I’m making gains. Unfortunately they’re not as obvious as what you can see here on the ovals. But I continue to make gains. Just enjoying driving these little rocket ships around. It’s a lot of fun. Every time I climb out, I just shake my head how hard you can drive these cars, the speed you can carry, the aggression you can drive with. They’re really fun cars to drive.”

With an IndyCar-NASCAR doubleheader weekend looming on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course this coming weekend, Johnson is hoping some of those stock-car lessons in turning left finally might apply to right turns, too. In 20 starts on road and street courses, Johnson’s best finish is 16th at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course three weeks ago.

“When I think of steering wheel inputs, where you use your feet, these cars are so pointy and react so quickly, I’ve been very delicate with the car,” he said. “But (at Iowa), the inputs that you drive the car with were much like a stock car. You just wrestle the thing around, force the steering wheel to it, jump on the gas and go.

“It really reminded me of a Cup car and the aggression. Maybe subconsciously I’ve learned something, learned something I can apply to the street and road courses. … Next weekend will be fun. I know I have a lot of (NASCAR) friends that will like to come see the IndyCar paddock.”

World of Outlaws release 2023 Sprint Car Series schedule

2023 Outlaws Sprint schedule
World of Outlaws
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The 2023 World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series schedule features 87 races, almost identical to the last year’s number, to be contested at 36 venues across 19 states. With cancelations for mostly weather, they closed out this year’s calendar on November 5 with 69 events in the books. Carson Macedo won a series high 11 races.

In 2022, David Gravel chased Brad Sweet into the three-race finale on the Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway in one of the most hotly contested championships in Outlaws history. Sweet emerged victorious for the fourth straight year.

For the 19th consecutive season, the Outlaws Sprints will begin their season at Volusia Speedway Park for the DIRTcar Nationals from Feb. 9-11 and will return March 5-6 for another two-day show before hitting the road with a three-track swing into Pennsylvania to take on the Posse.

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“Every year we continue to build the best schedule we can for drivers and fans across the country,” said World of Outlaws CEO Brian Carter is a series release. “I’m excited for the journey we’ve put together, which includes the biggest races in Sprint Car racing, our new Spring Swing through Pennsylvania, the thrill of combining the World of Outlaws and ‘Bike Week’ and so much more.”

Some tracks returning from hiatus and one brand new course include 81 Speedway in Park City, Kans. in April and again in October, Tri-City Speedway in Pontoon City, Ill. in April, Ogilvie (Minn.) Raceway in June and BAPS Motor Speedway in York Haven, Penn.

BAPS hosts its first race in more than 30 years when the track was known as Susquehanna Speedway. This midweek show will give the local Pennsylvania Posse 14 attempts to beat the traveling Outlaws.

Ogilvie Speedway is completely new to the series and makes it the 224th different venue they will have challenged.

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Notably missing from the calendar are Vado (N.M.) Speedway Park, Cotton Bowl Speedway in Paige, Texas, Bakersfield (Calif.) Speedway and the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt Track.

In addition to the new spring Pennsylvania Swing, the second date at Volusia Speedway will coincide with Daytona Beach’s Bike Week and bring new eyes to the sport.

Knoxville Raceway adds another multi-night show to the calendar in April, giving this track eight sanctioned events in 2023.

And of course, there are plenty of mainstays and high dollar events, such as the Memorial Day Spectacular at Lawrenceburg (Ind.) Speedway, the 35th running of the Brad Doty Classic in July and the Labor Day Spectacular at Gray’s Harbor in Elma, Wash.

Several big paydays are on the line in 2023 including the 40th annual Kings Royal at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio paying $175,000 to the winner, the Huset’s High Bank Nationals’ $250,000-to-win finale and the grandaddy of them all, the 62nd Knoxville Nationals with a total purse exceeding $1 million.

2023 Outlaws Sprint Schedule

Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 9-11 – Volusia Speedway Park (Barberville, FL)

Sunday-Monday, March 5-6 – Volusia Speedway Park (Barberville, FL)
Friday-Saturday, March 10-11 – Port Royal Speedway (Port Royal, PA)
Friday, March 17 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Saturday, March 18 – Lincoln Speedway (Abbottstown, PA)
Friday, March 24 – Talladega Short Track (Eastaboga, AL)
Saturday, March 25 – Magnolia Motor Speedway (Columbus, MS)
Friday, March 31-Saturday, April 1 – Devil’s Bowl Speedway (Mesquite, TX)

Friday, April 7 – US-36 Raceway (Osborn, MO)
Saturday, April 8 – 81 Speedway (Park City, KS)
Friday-Saturday, April 14-15 – Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 (Pevely, MO)
Friday-Saturday, April 21-22 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Friday, April 28 – Tri-City Speedway (Granite City, IL)
Saturday, April 29 – Tri-State Speedway (Haubstadt, IN)

Friday-Saturday, May 5-6 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Wednesday, May 10 – Lincoln Speedway (Abbottstown, PA)
Friday-Saturday, May 12-13 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Friday, May 19 – Attica Raceway Park (Attica, OH)
Saturday, May 20 – Sharon Speedway (Hartford, OH)
Friday-Saturday, May 26-27 – Atomic Speedway (Chillicothe, OH)
Monday, May 29 – Lawrenceburg Speedway (Lawrenceburg, IN)

Friday, June 2 – River Cities Speedway (Grand Forks, ND)
Saturday, June 3 – Ogilvie Raceway (Ogilvie, MN)
Friday-Saturday, June 9-10 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Friday-Saturday, June 16-17 – Beaver Dam Raceway (Beaver Dam, WI)
Wednesday-Saturday, June 21-24 – Huset’s Speedway (Brandon, SD)
Friday, June 30-Saturday, July 1 – Cedar Lake Speedway (New Richmond, WI)

Friday, July 7 – 34 Raceway (West Burlington, IA)
Saturday, July 8 – Wilmot Raceway (Wilmot, WI)
Tuesday, July 11 – Attica Raceway Park (Attica, OH)
Friday-Saturday, July 14-15 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Wednesday, July 19 – BAPS Motor Speedway (York Haven, PA)
Friday-Saturday, July 21-22 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Saturday-Sunday, July 29-30 – Weedsport Speedway (Weedsport, NY)

Friday-Saturday, Aug. 4-5 – Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 (Pevely, MO)
Wednesday-Saturday, Aug. 9-12 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Thursday-Saturday, Aug. 17-19 – Jackson Motorplex (Jackson, MN)
Friday, Aug. 25 – River Cities Speedway (Grand Forks, ND)
Saturday, Aug. 26 – Red River Valley Speedway (West Fargo, ND)
Thursday, Aug. 31-Saturday, September 2 – Skagit Speedway (Alger, WA)

Monday, Sept. 4 – Grays Harbor Raceway (Elma, WA)
Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 7-9 – Silver Dollar Speedway (Chico, CA)
Friday, Sept. 15 – Keller Auto Speedway (Hanford, CA)
Saturday, Sept. 16 – Placerville Speedway (Placerville, CA)
Friday, Sept. 22 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Saturday, Sept. 23 – Sharon Speedway (Hartford, OH)
Friday-Saturday, Sept. 29-30 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)

Friday-Saturday, Oct. 6-7 – Port Royal Speedway (Port Royal, PA)
Friday, Oct. 13 – 81 Speedway (Park City, KS)
Saturday, Oct. 14 – Lakeside Speedway (Kansas City, KS)
Friday-Saturday, Oct. 20-21 – TBA

Wednesday-Saturday, Nov. 1-4 – The Dirt Track at Charlotte (Concord, NC)