Jimmie Goes Fulltime Next Season

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Earlier this week, Jimmie Johnson confirmed what had long been suspected – he will run the Indianapolis 500 in 2022 as a 46 year-old rookie. We learned earlier in the week that an announcement was forthcoming. The only real suspense was whether or not Johnson would run the full season, which meant including the other ovals on the schedule – since he only ran non-ovals this past season.

I actually expected Johnson to announce that the Indianapolis 500 would be the only oval on his 2022 schedule. I was happy to learn on Wednesday that he does indeed plan to run the full 2022 NTT IndyCar Series schedule, which will include Texas, the double-header at Iowa and Gateway.

What this does for Tony Kanaan’s plans remains to be seen. I saw on Twitter where someone asked him if he would be on the grid for next year’s Indianapolis 500, and he said “yes”. He also was very enthusiastic about this announcement, so I’m going on the assumption that we will see TK in a fifth Ganassi car, at least in May if not all of the ovals.

Johnson tested on the oval at Texas before he went through his rookie orientation at IMS earlier this fall. Having had extensive stock car experience at both of those tracks, about the only thing new to him at those venues was the difference in the car – which I understand is substantial. Not only does he have stock car experience at those tracks, he has won at them too. In fact, Johnson is a four-time winner of the Brickyard 400. Will any of his knowledge translate over to the Indianapolis 500? Probably not, but I can’t say for certain since I’m not a driver. Johnson has driven what is now an Xfinity car at gateway, but has no experience at Iowa. We’ll see if that has any bearing on his performance.

I am hopeful that Jimmie Johnson has a much better season than last season. I think everyone, including myself, had unrealistic expectations for Johnson heading into 2021. I think maybe the only person that was not surprised that he struggled, was Johnson himself. I think we were all seduced by the seven NASCAR Cup championships he brought along with him.

I think NASCAR fans were surprised to learn that IndyCar might be a little tougher than they thought. They enjoyed seeing Danica Patrick, Dario Franchitti and Sam Hornish struggle in their transitions into stock cars. I guess it never dawned on them that the transition might work both ways. It didn’t help that Kurt Busch made the Indianapolis 500 seem relatively easy as he qualified twelfth and finished sixth in his one and only attempt in 2014. They overlooked that he had a massive shunt in Turn Two during practice, when he got just the slightest bit careless.

IndyCar fans took the same joy in watching Johnson struggle this past season. While I was glad to show the world that IndyCar was much tougher than many thought, I did not take the same delight in watching his struggles that others did. I felt like IndyCar needed him to do fairly well in his rookie season. One of the main benefits to having Johnson in the series was to have some NASCAR fans take serious interest in the series. Many probably tuned in to watch Johnson’s struggles in the season-opener at Barber, but after watching a similar performance at St. Petersburg – they probably quit tuning in.

One thing that went unnoticed in the last few races of the season, was that Johnson improved his driving skills in an Indy car. After his worst performance of the season in Nashville, he did much better at the IMS road course the next week. He finished nineteenth, but drove much better through the race and the weekend. At Laguna Seca, he was running competitive times and showed a lot of promise, and did much better in each race after Nashville.

Most know my feelings on the Jimmie haters out there, so I won’t get o that soapbox again. Just know that if you are one of them, I don’t agree with you.

I will be curious to see how Johnson does on the ovals next season, especially at Indianapolis. Being the non-driver that I am, I am inclined to believe that having so much oval experience will serve him well. He won the Brickyard 400 four times between 2006 and 2012. He raced there every year between 2002 and 2019. He missed the 2020 Brickyard 400 due to a false-positive COVID test.

Will that experience help him or hurt him? Are the two cars that different that he may have to spend the first few days of practice unlearning everything he learned in those eighteen Brickyard starts? Sometimes that happens in the real world. Employers sometimes discount experience in favor of someone who has no preconceived notion on how to do a job. Personally, I’ve always favored experience ten times out of ten. I figure if they already know the basic concept, they can learn the nuances a lot quicker. It lessens the learning curve.

I am assuming it is the same in racing certain tracks. If you already know how to get around a track and win in a lumbering stock car and you’ve had a year to learn how different it is to drive an Indy car, I’m thinking the process of learning how to pilot an Indy car around the 2.5-mile IMS oval should be a lot quicker in that situation. Then again – that’s easy to say while sitting behind a keyboard.

I was never a Jimmie Johnson fan when he was winning those seven championships. I found him to be a little too perfect – always saying just the right thing in every interview. But in his later years in NASCAR, he stopped winning and seemed a lot more human. He went from being a corporate robot to elder statesman status in a fairly short time.

When Johnson decided to run IndyCar after his NASCAR retirement, I loved it. He didn’t have to do this – he did it because he is a racer at heart, and he knew what a huge challenge it was. I suddenly had massive respect for him. Some saw this as his little hobby that interfered with “real” IndyCar drivers seriously pursuing their careers. I saw it as a way to add another car to the grid, bring more eyes to the sport and add a top-quality sponsor like Carvana to the series.

I honestly think Jimmie Johnson is going to be much-improved next season. Will he contend for the championship? No. Will he win a race? It’s highly unlikely. Will he be competitive? I think he will be. I think we know what he is and is not on the road and street courses. What I’m curious to see is how he will perform on the ovals. I am expecting to be pleasantly surprised. I hope I’m right.

George Phillips

4 Responses to “Jimmie Goes Fulltime Next Season”

  1. I was hoping he would do this. I know he declined some his last few years in NASCAR but he may surprise, on ovals for sure. I was not a fan of his back in those days but I’d like to see him do well next year, especially in the 500.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    I expect Jimmie to find a finish “in the points” next year (a top 12), and not necessarily find that finish on an oval. This season will probably tell us whether he can be more than he was last year or not.

  3. I admire Johnson for taking on the challenge and how he’s approached and dealt with the transition. Seems like a good guy as well. I hope he continues to improve. I can’t see him finishing in the top 12 but I’d like to see it and I wish him the best.

  4. I never expected to become a JJ fan, but I do admire him for tackling a new series when he could be enjoying his retirement. This was not a publicity stunt and Jimmie took this ride with Ganassi seriously. I am happy he has signed up for the whole shebang in 2022 and wish him well. And I am looking forward to new Carvana commercials. I wish other drivers had such an engaged sponsor.

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