It looks more and more like Jimmie Johnson is ready to try oval racing in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
On the same day that fellow series rookie Romain Grosjean tested on an oval for the first time at World Wide Technology Raceway, Johnson indicated during a media videoconference he is planning to turn his first oval laps in his No. 48 Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing Honda during a test in late August at Homestead-Miami Speedway in south Florida.
“We’re looking at a Homestead test in August,” Johnson said. “Last I heard, things were heading in that direction for late August.”
Johnson won seven NASCAR Cup Series championships and 83 races during his illustrious career in the primarily oval stock car series. But he is racing only in the 12 road-and-street course events in his rookie season in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, skipping the four oval races.
But Johnson admits hanging around the Ganassi team pits during the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge in May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, working as a television analyst for NBC Sports’ broadcast of the race and seeing the safety of the INDYCAR SERIES car – with its revolutionary aeroscreen – have started to increase his comfort level with racing ovals in an open-wheel car.
“Ultimately, I’m trying to understand the safety level of the Indy car on the ovals,” Johnson said. “That’s the part that’s worrying me as a father of two and a deal I made with my wife a long time ago about the Indy 500. I’ve kind of watched the ovals and really never thought that I could be out there.
“But then participating this year as a television commentator and being around the sport all season long like I have, seeing a few big crashes at the Brickyard and speaking to the drivers after, I’m becoming much more comfortable with the ovals and with the crash dynamics that take place with softer walls, the halo, the aeroscreen, the tub of the car.
“Yes, I need to go make laps and need to understand what that experience is like, but ultimately I’m just trying to understand the safety level of the car, and as I get more comfortable with that, my participation level on ovals will increase.”
Johnson indicated the heavy crash suffered by Ganassi teammate and NTT INDYCAR SERIES points leader Alex Palou this year in qualifying at Indianapolis opened his eyes to the increased safety of oval racing in the series.
“He was fine; he walked away,” Johnson said. “That was a big checkmark for me.”