For the good of the NTT IndyCar Series and his future of continuing to race at the track, Jimmie Johnson left the Iowa Speedway last month with a simple request.
“More ovals, please,” Johnson said with a smile. “Especially what I experienced on a short oval in Iowa, I’m just a lot more in my element and thinking less and reacting more. And it put on a great show. So I’m hooked on St. Louis.”
race on Saturday (6 p.m. ET, US) at the World Wide Technology Raceway Gateway (located just outside of St. Louis in Madison, Illinois) will mark the final oval of the 2022 season and one of only four to host five of 17 races this season.
INDYCAR AT WWTR GATEWAY: Details, schedules, tee times for this weekend
Although the schedule for 2023 probably unchangedThere is speculation about the future of Texas Motor Speedway (both with IndyCar and its surface) and hope remains that the season will eventually be redesigned with more emphasis given to the ovals, which nearly seven years ago accounted for half of the schedule .
A rebalanced list could also help increase the odds of keeping Johnson in the No. 48 Dallara-Honda.
After racing part-time on road and road courses as a rookie, Johnson made the switch to full-time this year and, pending sponsorship, wants to return to IndyCar for 2023 (Main supporter Carvana probably wait until the end of the summer to decide on next year’s funding).
“Still actively selling,” Johnson said. “I’m still working out there. I haven’t heard ‘no’ yet, so that’s a good sign.”
Given his success in turning left exclusively this year – a career-best fifth in race two on the Iowa Speedway, a sixth in Texas and a solid May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway before a late crash at the Indy 500 – more ovals could be positive to secure his spot with Chip Ganassi Racing.
“It could be from a sales perspective,” Johnson said. “I never thought I’d say that, but I’m for more short ovals. I just think they put on such a great show. And with my personal frustration with Indy trying to overtake and what I could see in those two races in Iowa, to my surprise these cars do really well on a short oval.”
The 1.25-mile oval at Gateway on Saturday could be a tougher test than the 0.8-mile oval in Iowa, where Johnson explored countless lines during a doubleheader race weekend.
Gateway has traditionally been a one-groove track. IndyCar has scheduled a special 30-minute practice session dedicated to working on the outside lane for Friday.
Johnson, a seven-time Cup Series champion with 82 victories at the Oval in NASCAR’s Premier Series, is optimistic about being able to find an outside groove like Romain Grosjean did on his debut at the Oval last year in Gateway did.
“I watch Indy and being a single groove track, I just couldn’t find my rhythm, couldn’t walk,” Johnson said. who completed three launches of the Xfinity series at Gateway from 1998-2001. “I know Romain made it interesting on restarts when the track was clean and able to work on different tracks. I hope that I will have this opportunity. I hope to keep the track clean at the top.
“It was something I realized I had to do in Iowa and why I kept running up alone. Dusting the outside track and pushing the track up is harder on these cars. The marbles are so much bigger than a cup car marble for some reason that if it gets stuck to your tire you’ll just lose control of your car. So if you can keep it clean, you only need one chance to have a second track. Hopefully I can help inspire others to keep it clean and race more.”
He certainly impressed the field in Iowa, riding particularly hard with Ganassi teammate Marcus Ericsson and Rinus VeeKay, who finished fourth in race one after several rounds in which he had fought just inches from Johnson (who led 19 laps after an early spin).
“[Johnson]was incredible on the highline,” VeeKay told NBC Sports a week later. “He kept coming back, going into the second groove and he going into the third groove. He definitely knows an oval. It was fun to race and a fair race too. We left ourselves just enough space.
“I’m still talking to my spotter about it. I was in the second groove and can hear my scout saying, ‘Outside, still there.’ I’m like, ‘What?’ It’s crazy. He’s got balls of steel. But he knows what he’s doing. He definitely drew on the stock car experience.”
Though the tracks have little in common, Johnson said he’s ridden on Iowa’s mostly flat tarmac like Bristol Motor Speedway’s high-altitude concrete, aggressively relying on no-throttle time to push the limits of traction.
The results were eye-opening for many from an IndyCar paddock that had grown accustomed to watching Johnson work hard just to maintain the pace of the lead lap on road and street circuits. Speed seemed much more effortless on ovals, earning compliments from veterans like Simon Pagenaud and six-time series champion Scott Dixon (who said “maybe i need to do more of this” after watching Johnson keep trying new lines in Iowa).
“Yeah, I got a lot of feedback and everyone thought I was obsessed or crazy or something in between,” Johnson said. “For me it was a completely normal oval race. It just kind of showed me how aggressively I have to befriend on the street and street courses.
“If I wanted to measure how I felt in the car and how much more aggression I brought to Iowa, it was twice as much aggression as I’ve ever had on a street or street course, so I just have to trust the car and let it do it his work. Learning to trust downforce was more of a challenge than I expected.”
‘More ovals please’: Jimmie Johnson hopes for another big gig at Gateway originally appeared on NBCSports.com