Johnson won’t let expectations affect IndyCar debut

NASCAR legend Jimmie Johnson says he’s avoiding setting expectations that might prevent him performing at his best in his IndyCar debut at Barber Motorsports Park.

Johnson won’t let expectations affect IndyCar debut

The seven-time Cup champion will have his first two official IndyCar practice sessions and his first qualifying session tomorrow at Barber Motorsports Park before making his race debut on Sunday.

Johnson is set to drive the #48 Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing-Honda for all 13 road and street courses on the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series schedule, with series veteran Tony Kanaan taking over the car for the four oval races.

Asked what he would consider a successful IndyCar debut, Johnson said: “I haven't been in a real practice session yet to understand the intensity and the pace. I've been to a handful of test sessions.

“My last test session here at Barber, I know where I rank in the overall running order of cars that were here testing. I wasn't last, so that's a good thing.

“Of course, I'm hopeful that that will be the case over the weekend, but I just don't know. I really don't want expectations to play any effect on my attitude or my approach to what I need to do here.

“I can't state enough just how little experience I have in these cars, how different they are than what I've grown up driving. It's just going to take me this year. It's going to take weeks, months, this season to really find that last bit of speed and be in the mix with these guys.

“Ultimately I need to make every lap that I can. If I go out there and try too hard, make a mistake and tear the car up, miss practice time, crash out of the race early, I'm costing myself valuable time.

“I need to enjoy this moment. Making sure I run as many laps as possible is the first goal. Tomorrow after the practice session, I might be able to adjust that goal and raise the bar some.”

Johnson, who racked up 83 wins over his 20-year, 686-race Cup career, added: “For the testing I've done, I should say the situations I've been in, I feel competent. [But] there are so many situations I haven't been in yet.

“There's some discussion about rain tomorrow morning. I have yet to be on a rain tire in an IndyCar. I have no idea what to expect when that happens. There's just a long list of firsts.

“I'm trying to set realistic expectations for the fans watching. I know many of my hardcore fans expect me to hop in and be right at the front of the pack. I'd love that to be the case, but I have a long road to get there.”

While the 45-year-old admitted to being nervous, he said that sensation was a welcome one.

“Honestly, the more I've broken it down over the years, the nerves that come with racing is the thing that makes me feel alive,” he said. “That accountability that I check in with every day makes me train, makes me study, makes me try harder in the sim, puts me in the racecar. All those moments really come from that anxiety or nerve that it takes to be a racecar driver.

“I've learned to really welcome that and expect it and enjoy it. But there are different nerves because there are so many unknowns. I'm really trying to chase those out of my head, just focus on what I do know, just how cool of an opportunity this is.

“It is a totally different world. My smile has been seen under my mask all day long walking around. People can see it through the mask and in my eyes that it's really a neat change of pace for me.”

Comparing this feeling to his rookie season in NASCAR at Cup level, Johnson admitted: “I've reflected on that quite a bit. I think it's similar. I mean, there were so many unknowns in the start of my Cup career, I feel like that's probably the closest experience that I have to what I'm about to go through now.

“Granted, I did have a couple years running the tracks in the lower divisions; I don't have that luxury here. But the magnitude of the moment, the weight of the moment, is very similar.”

Regarding the speculation that he might try an IndyCar on an oval – the idea of which enthuses his team owner Chip Ganassi – Johnson said there was “no timeline” for now.

“I've let the team know, we've talked a little bit about it,” he said. “We have so much going on with starting this team up. Obviously focusing on Tony, his opportunities this year in the #48 car on the ovals.

“There's really nothing there yet. There's a sliver of an opening that maybe something can come together for the future.”

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Series IndyCar
Event Birmingham
Drivers Jimmie Johnson
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing
Author David Malsher-Lopez
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