Jimmie Johnson answered the bell in his NTT IndyCar Series oval debut at the Texas Motor Speedway.
The expectancy was high given that ovals are the 7-time NASCAR Cup Series Champion’s bread and butter and he has seven wins at TMS to boot. Sunday’s Xpel 375 resulted in a sixth-place finish – by far the 46-year-old’s best IndyCar finish to date.
He began the 248-lap contest in 18th place and hovered around the teens for the race’s opening 100 laps. After dodging a three-car melee that eliminated rookie Devlin DeFrancesco, Graham Rahal and Helio Castroneves – the 84-time NASCAR winner found himself just outside the top ten with around 100 laps remaining.
He fought with the likes of defending champion teammate Alex Palou, Simon Pagenaud and Colton Herta throughout the stint and found himself seventh following his final pitstop.
He traded the final top-five spot with teammate Scott Dixon and Pagenaud and overcame telemetry issues to come home sixth at the checkered flag.
“Absolutely I’m happy,” he said. “With a couple to go I was in fifth. We were worried about fuel. We had an issue with the telemetry, didn’t know how much fuel I’ve had to save. I got a panicked fuel number. I could tell by the seriousness in their voice it was serious. I couldn’t brace for Scott and try to hold onto fifth.
“What a two-day adventure this has been. To be able to get enough laps in the race, to feel the tires from start to finish, green flag stops, being in dirty air, just how uncomfortable and treacherous that is. All of those little mistakes and little moments gave me a sense of the car and helped me feel really how to drive this car, how to create speed.
“Second half of the race I started working my way forward in that final stint, had a very competitive car. Wished that I had maybe started the race a little further forward. I think I could have finished a little further forward.”
Today’s stellar run has Johnson pumped for the next oval – The 106th running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.
“I think today just showed what the 48 car is capable of, he said. “We all know what the Chip Ganassi cars are capable of. I just haven’t been fast enough on the street and road courses to put the car in that window and get results.
“To be here on a track I know, an environment that I know, I was able to provide and do that for the team. I feel very excited about it, very encouraged about the remaining oval races that are on the books.
“I know I’m going to have a great car. We’ll see how it goes.”