Today’s question: Romain Grosjean and Jimmie Johnson are participating in the Indianapolis 500 Rookie Orientation Program on Wednesday, Oct. 5 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Which driver’s test intrigues you the most, and why?
Curt Cavin: I’ve been saying for months that Jimmie Johnson’s attempt at INDYCAR is the most fascinating thing I’ve seen in this sport since Nigel Mansell in 1993. Of course, Mansell had instant success in CART – five wins and nearly won the Indianapolis 500 -- but he also was 6 years younger than Johnson and was the reigning champion of an open-wheel series (Formula One), a significant experience advantage. Honestly, even though Johnson improved on the road courses as this season progressed, he struggled even more than I expected him to. He should feel more at home at IMS, where he won four NASCAR races, but to use a Scott McLaughlin phrase, this will be a different kettle of fish. I can’t wait to watch it.
Zach Horrall: I’m really excited to see Jimmie Johnson attempt Rookie Orientation Program. For starters, his initial oval test at Texas Motor Speedway appears to have gone very well. I’m eager to see how quickly he can adapt to the famed 2.5-mile oval based on the speed he had at Texas’ 1.5-mile oval. Secondly, it’s not often we get NASCAR drivers crossing over to the Indianapolis 500, with just AJ Allmendinger and Kurt Busch in the last decade. I know Jimmie is an NTT INDYCAR SERIES athlete now, but he’ll always be known as a NASCAR legend. If he attempts the Indy 500 and it goes well, maybe a driver of his stature will open the flood gates for more stock car drivers to attempt “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
Paul Kelly: This test is compelling for both guys. You have a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion who has four Brickyard 400 victories learning more about driving an NTT INDYCAR SERIES car on that same IMS oval. Then you have a Formula One veteran who has become a global motorsports icon learning more about oval racing, period. But I’m paying closer attention to Grosjean, for a few reasons. One, we’re sure he’s running in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” next spring in his new, full-time ride in the No. 28 DHL Honda for Andretti Autosport in 2022. Johnson insists he’s still in the exploratory phase of considering racing ovals in 2022, including the “500.” Romain is in; Jimmie isn’t sure. Plus, Grosjean has one oval race under the belt of his driver’s suit in his entire life. Johnson made more than 600 oval starts in his Cup career alone. Sure, that was in a drastically different car, but Jimmie knows his way around circle tracks. Romain does not. So, combine his continued adaptation to ovals with his debut with his new team, and I’m paying slightly closer attention to Grosjean. But both guys have very interesting stories to follow Wednesday and beyond on ovals.