Jimmie Johnson, 45, should be too old to be a rookie, especially when you consider his success in NASCAR. But a rookie is precisely what Johnson is today, as the noted driver is now making his way through a part-time slate of road courses and street circuits in the IndyCar Series.
And it appears Johnson is already impressing the competition.
“Jimmie’s appetite for details and work, him and Scott (Dixon) are very similar in that way,” three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti told Autoweek. “I like to think I was like that. I love details. The more details you can give me, the harder you have to work, that’s fine. Jimmie’s that guy. “
The IndyCar seeds were planted when Johnson attended the 2004 Formula Spanish Grand Prix with NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon, and Johnson told Motorsport.com that he recalled the “the pageantry of open-wheel racing.”
Then, in December 2018, Johnson drove McLaren Formula 1 in a car-swap with Fernando Alonso, who drove a NASCAR. Johnson told Motorsport that he found the experience to be “unlike any other I’ve had.”
That leads us today, where he is driving the IndyCar competitively on a part-time basis.
“You’ve got to be so ahead of an IndyCar – anticipating, not just reacting,” Johnson told Motorsport. “And it’s so stiff. In NASCAR, there’s much more suspension to absorb chassis rake and roll and twist; in an IndyCar, it stays flat, so you’re driving off the tire sidewall, and it’s either going to hook up, or it’s gone.”
Johnson announced in September that he would join Chip Ganassi Racing on a part-time basis for 2021 and 2022 to drive the road and street courses. The deal leaves open the possibility of Johnson also running select NASCAR Cup Series races. He was named NASCAR Driver of the Year in 2006, ’07, ’09, ’10 and ’13.
“He’s closed the gap to where he needs to be,” Franchitti said of Johnson’s IndyCar start. “Percentage-wise, he’s getting to those last few tenths. He’s trying to recalibrate 20 years of driving stock cars. He’s not coming from zero, he’s coming from less than zero because of his stock car habits.
“Talent-wise, you’ve seen what he’s done. It’s ridiculous. He’s got so much talent. His work ethic is incredible.”