Saturday, June 10, 2023

Jimmie Johnson Ready to ‘Send It’ to Capture Pole for Indy 500

Jimmie Johnson advanced to the Fast 12 for Sunday's qualifying of the Indy 500.
Jimmie Johnson advanced into the Fast 12 in his maiden attempt for the Indianapolis 500. Image courtesy of Dana Garrett / Penske Entertainment

Jimmie Johnson is making the most of his maiden month of May for the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500.

On Saturday’s rain-impacted qualifying session, the 46-year-old California native displayed the same strong pace from the week’s practices with a stout four-lap average run at 232.398 mph to place sixth overall and advance into Sunday’s Fast 12.

While the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion only needed one run in today’s bout, he’ll need two signature four-lap performances to go from the Fast 12 into the Fast Six in order to claim pole.

“I got a shot,” Johnson said. “I don’t know what the odds are. I still feel like I’m learning and getting quality reps and getting better, so I’ll send it for sure and see.”

While Rinus VeeKay, Saturday’s pace-setter with a four-lap average run at 233.655 mph, is one of the objects in the way, so are Johnson’s four teammates – Alex Palou, Marcus Ericsson, Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan – as all five of the Chip Ganassi Racing fleet advanced into the Fast 12.

If Johnson were to win pole for the Indy 500, he would become the first rookie to accomplish the feat since Teo Fabi in 1983.

Uniquely, it was 20 years ago when Johnson captured pole in the Daytona 500 as a rookie. While that accomplishment had its own fair share of learnings, Johnson noted how it differed from his Indy 500 journey.

“The lap itself, there’s really not a comparison,” said Johnson, driver of the No. 48 CGR Honda. “This is so much more intense. Plus you have four of them you have to run. Not just one.

“The process, the two weeks of being in Daytona, trimming the car out, the team really working their magic, worrying about temps, worrying about aero-efficiency. There are a lot of parallels, but there is much more on the driver here than what happens in Daytona 500 qualifying.”

A career that features two Daytona 500 victories (2006, ’13) among his 83 Cup wins and aforementioned seven titles, Johnson’s achievements are almost endless. However, hitting 230-plus mph speeds around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the build up to “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” is something he puts right there among them.

“It’s really high,” Johnson said. “I haven’t had much time to think about it and place it, but I can definitely say I’m enjoying it more. Instead of being so focused on just the work side, I’m enjoying the different moments. I’m letting my mind relax a little bit, look around and smell the roses type moments, which was not how I operated my Cup career.

“I was pretty focused and didn’t take time to savor the experience and the moment. I feel like I’m doing a really good job of that, and today exceeded expectations. Not only performance on being track, but the fan support, the energy on pit lane, and everything that I experienced today was really more than I expected.

“I know it’s nothing like what we’re going to see on Sunday here next weekend. So just savoring every moment that I can.

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