Jimmie Johnson has an even-keeled mindset heading into his NTT IndyCar Series debut at this weekend’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park.
The 45-year-old from El Cajon, California retired from NASCAR competition in 2020 after an illustrious 20-year career encompassing 83 wins and seven championships.
Johnson is coming to the 2.38-mile road course outside Birmingham, Alabama road course after testing in the offseason.
Preparation aside, Johnson is approaching the weekend with a realistic mindset as he tackles his first official session.
“I haven’t been in a real practice session yet to understand the intensity and the pace,” Johnson said. “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.”
Johnson alluded to the experience to when he stepped up to the NASCAR Cup Series in 2002 driving for Hendrick Motorsports.
“I’ve reflected on that quite a bit. I think it’s similar. I mean, there’s 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 division, which I don’t have that luxury here. But magnitude of the moment, the weight of the moment, is very similar.”
He added that while he is carrying some emotions into the weekend, the awareness drives him to perform at his best.
“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. 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 race car. All those moments really come from that anxiety or nerve that it takes to be a race car 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.”