An 11th-place finish didn’t match the effort that Jimmie Johnson put in during the HyVee Deals 250 presented by DoorDash at the Iowa Speedway.
Johnson made 57 passes throughout the 250-lap contest -the most of any driver. He also led a career-high 19 laps early in the running to top it all off.
“I had so much fun out there today,” said the 7-time NASCAR Cup Series champion. “Watched so many great races at this track. To be here in person, drive on it in an INDYCAR is such a rush.”
The Chip Ganassi Racing driver started in a hole early when he spun on Lap 17. He didn’t hit anything and admitted the move to be over-ambitious.
“I’ve had a lot of success in my Cup career, if you think of tracks like Atlanta or Richmond in the Cup cars, probably Kevin Harvick was one of the first ones to expose if you drive on the painted line, it will help turn the car and create some grip. I just tried it and it didn’t work.
“I was running lower and lower in three and four. 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.”
He remained on the lead lap and pitted under the yellow with a handufl of other takers.
Four fresh Firestones allowed Johnson to claw his way through the pack and enter the top ten on Lap 49. He worked his way up to 3rd come the 60th Lap and took over the top spot two circuits later as race leader Will Power pitted.
He spent 19 laps in the top spot before stopping on Lap 80 and dropping to 13th, one lap off the pace. That unexpectedly proved advantageous for the No. 48 Carvana Honda as 20 lap fresher tires allowed him to unlap himself and clamber to fifth when the yellow flew on Lap 111.
He remained near the edge of the Top 5 for the next two stints but struggled with grip during the final 76 Lap stint before finishing 11th.
Johnson relished in the result nonetheless.
“The first two-thirds of the race I really felt like we had a car competitive enough to win,” he said. “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.”
He felt that his NASCAR experience was more relatable at Iowa than any other track he has visited in an IndyCar.
“I think there are more similarities to driving an INDYCAR here than anywhere else I’ve been so far,” he said. “The inputs in the car are much more aggressive. There’s 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.”