Jimmie Johnson has an opportunity to grow his legend and and be among the highest echelon of racing royalty when he straps into the No. 48 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda on May 29 in the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500.
And count Mario Andretti, one of those occupying a seat at the Round Table, among those supporting Johnson’s debut in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Andretti, the 1978 Formula One World Champion, is one of only two drivers to have ever captured victories in both the Daytona 500 and Indy 500, with the other being A.J. Foyt.
Andretti won the 1967 edition in NASCAR’s ‘Great American Race’ before going on the capture victory in the 1969 Indy 500. Foyt is a four-time winner in IndyCar’s crown jewel (1961, ’64, ’67 and ’77) and also won the 1972 Daytona 500.
Johnson, a two-time winner of the Daytona 500 and seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, has made 16 starts (Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix will be 17) in the NTT IndyCar Series but only one has come on an oval. That race, which happened in March at Texas Motor Speedway, featured a promising performance that ended with Johnson charging through the field during the last half of the race en route to a sixth-place finish.
Additionally, Johnson showed strong pace during the two days of open testing last month at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
During the second practice session on Friday for the GMR Grand Prix, Leigh Diffey of NBC Sports asked Andretti his thoughts on Johnson possibly joining he and Foyt at the end of the month.
“I’m a big fan,” Andretti said of Johnson. “I’m watching it as close as I can, and he has progressed tremendously this year. I think there are a few glitches for the road courses, yet. Come the 500, he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with.
“I think he’s shown that during the test. What I saw at Texas in Jimmie, he felt right at home at that point. He knows enough about the car and yeah, he’s definitely a dark horse.”