Jimmie Johnson enters the first Indianapolis 500 with an eye for history


Jimmie Johnson wants to join an elite category on Sunday.

His eyes are on hoisting the Borg Warner Trophy after the 106th race of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday. It’s a rare opportunity for Johnson to join AJ Foyt and Mario Andretti as the only drivers to win this prestigious event and the Daytona 500.

Johnson will start 12th in his first-ever Indianapolis 500, competing in the No. 48 Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing. And despite being a four-time Brickyard 400 winner, this lap at Indy is a different experience for the seven-time Nascar Cup Series champion, as it’s the fastest car he’s ever been in at 232.398. mph on day 1. of qualifying.

“I want to be competitive,” Johnson said Thursday. “I think we will be a player.

“It would put me in one of the most elite clubs as a driver to win a Daytona 500 and an Indy 500. There are two [drivers] who did. That would be crazy.”

Johnson joined Chip Ganassi Racing and the NTT IndyCar Series last year to compete only on road courses after a historic 20-year career in NASCAR. As he became more comfortable with the faster, lighter race cars, he decided to attempt the full program, taking a risk and competing on ovals.

Ever since Johnson moved on to the IndyCar series, fans, media and everyone else wanted to know if he would be taking part in the historic event. Now that he’s doing the unthinkable, he can’t forget Sunday’s competition.

“I joked with my family and friends that I was in that Indy 500 vortex,” Johnson said. “I’m in my own little universe here. I went home for a few days and it was nice to recharge the battery and catch my breath. I had to make sure the rest of life was in order, and I came back here to do it again.

Throughout Johnson’s trade to a different series — in his mid-40s — he learns more about himself. May, as he prepares for the Indianapolis 500, has helped him realize who he is when it comes to competing in IndyCar.

“I feel like I’m seeing a familiar, comforting pattern,” Johnson said. “The model is my understanding of the racing gear, cars and circuits I’ve ridden since I was a kid. I always felt like I learned a bit slowly, but once I learned, I get it. It took me five years of driving stock cars before I had the success I had.

“I hope to have another three or four years to reach my peak. I see and I certainly know that the more time I spend in these cars, the more competitive I will be.”

Johnson thinks he will stay in the NTT IndyCar series for several seasons. His comfort level in these hot rods just keeps going up.

However, as seen in the Carvana docuseries on Johnson’s season, he is recovering from a horrific hand injury at the weekend of the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. It is one of the worst injuries he has ever suffered in his racing career.

“I’m grateful for putting the screw in,” he said. “It’s much better and I think I’m back to 100% now. I broke a lot of bones, but this is the first time the hardware has stayed in place. I had reconstructive knee surgery, where they had to come back later and remove the pins and such. The screw you saw stays there for life.

As Johnson prepares for the crowd of more than 300,000 – the largest number he has ever run in front of – he thrives on the pressure. He admitted he would be nervous on race day, but that’s okay considering what he does for a living.

“I’m a lucky man, to say the least,” Johnson said. “Chip’s organization and the people he put in every position – you get into my teammates and Dario Franchitti (driver coach) – I’m in the best possible position and I’m very grateful to him for that.”

This weekend, Johnson will wear a special helmet with the American Legion ahead of Memorial Day. He teamed up with country singer Blake Shelton to help design the helmet, featuring Johnson’s two grandfathers and Shelton’s father and brother.

“Indy is special,” Johnson said. “Everyone is trying to do something unique. We just debuted it with Jimmy Fallon, and it looks really good.

The green flag for the Indianapolis 500 will fly on Sunday, May 29 at 12:45 p.m. ET on NBC.

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