Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Jimmie Johnson ‘Had So Much Fun’ at Iowa en Route to Finishing 11th After Spinning

Jimmie Johnson at Iowa Speedway in 2022.
Jimmie Johnson rebounded from an early spin to have one of his best IndyCar performances on Saturday at Iowa Speedway. Photo courtesy of Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment.

NEWTON, Iowa — Jimmie Johnson went from spinning to leading the 250 in the span of 45 laps.

The No. 48 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda ran low in Turns 3-4 on the .894-mile oval early in the 250 lap race, the 11th of the 2022 IndyCar Series season. Instead of the paint helping turn the car properly, the paint turned the car too much, spinning the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion around on Lap 16.

“I was running lower and lower in (Turns) 3 and 4,” Johnson said in the post race press conference. “It was working well. I thought, ‘Let me just put the left sides on the painted lines.’ I was backward instantly. It was just a mistake on my behalf.”

Johnson pitted under the caution period on Lap 19 with 10 other cars. After the Lap 22 restart, Johnson went from 22nd to 14th in just 10 laps. As the frontrunner’s tires started to fall off, Johnson made his way up to fifth place by Lap 58.

The Californian was in third place on Lap 60 and got the lead on the next lap as race leader Will Power and second place runner Colton Herta pitted, which was shocking since Herta pitted with Johnson under caution.

Johnson led 19 laps before Josef Newgarden took the lead for good on Lap 80, leading the final 170 laps to win his fourth IndyCar race at Iowa Speedway.

When Ed Carpenter spun on Lap 164 to create the race’s final caution period, the entire field stopped for tires and Johnson restarted sixth. After getting fifth place when Scott McLaughlin had a loose wheel issue on the restart, Johnson fell back to sixth place behind Rinus VeeKay. Johnson got up to fifth again for a few laps, but VeeKay passed Johnson on Lap 204 and Johnson never gained another position for the rest of the race.

As tire grip fell off, so did Johnson as Romain Grosjean picked up sixth place from Johnson on Lap 232. Johnson’s Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Scott Dixon and Marcus Ericsson passed Johnson for position and Johnson was back in ninth place on Lap 244. Graham Rahal and Christian Lundgaard passed Johnson on successive laps and dropped Johnson to 11th, where he finished one lap down to Newgarden.

One might think that Johnson was disappointed with finishing 11th, especially after he finished sixth at Texas back in March, but that wasn’t the case.

“I had so much fun out there today,” Johnson said. “Watched so many great races at this track, to be here in person, drive on it in an Indy car is such a rush.

“The first two-thirds of the race I really felt like we had a car competitive enough to win. Then there at the end it kind of slipped away from us. I think the longer run at the end also kind of exposed a weakness in our car, and I faded a bit more.”

Iowa Speedway has a lot of similarities to Richmond Raceway, a track where Johnson has three victories and seven top five finishes in his NASCAR career. That allowed him to go back in his memory bank and relied on his Cup experience for his first race at Iowa Speedway.

“I think there are more similarities to driving an Indy car here than anywhere else I’ve been so far,” Johnson said. “The inputs in the car are much more aggressive. There’s a just a lot more sawing on the wheel, a lot more work with your feet, like what you would do in a Cup car on a short track as well. I felt like instinctively I could just drive the car and didn’t have to think about things so much. Texas and Indy, speed is higher, you’re more precise with your inputs. Here it was down and dirty, short track driving. Fits my style really well.”

Johnson made a lot of moves on the high side of the track to gain positions, wowing many in attendance. It was a sign of confidence as the second-year IndyCar driver was finding his groove on IndyCar’s shortest track.

“Instinctively I was able to be myself in the car and stop thinking so much about everything that I do,” Johnson said. “Thank God there weren’t any braking zones for me to get beat in on this oval! It was really just about carrying momentum, carrying lines, understanding where a line would be overused, run off and lose grip, find a new line. I was just able to be myself. It was really a lot of fun.”

Johnson has an additional 50 laps on Sunday to race in the Hy-Vee Salute to Farmers 300. That race airs live on NBC at 3:00 p.m. ET with the green flag waving to start the race 30 minutes later.

Follow @CDeHarde on Twitter.

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