Tony Kanaan Jimmie Johnson

Think seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson isn’t loving this Indianapolis Motor Speedway experience now that official Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge practice has begun?

On his first lap of May practice Tuesday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the four-time winner of NASCAR’s Brickyard 400 waved to his father, Gary, who is serving as one of his spotters. A television camera caught the special moment.

Later in the day, the driver of Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 48 Carvana Honda told of just learning that NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers are photographed with their car after qualifying for the “500,” and that family members usually get a celebratory shot. His wife, Chandra, and their two daughters, ages 12 and 9, will be at IMS on Saturday for the occasion.

“Looking forward to that picture,” Johnson said, adding that the girls have a different excitement for the event. “They’re just happy to come here and get away with eating Doritos and drinking Sprites.”

Members of the media reminded Johnson that he could become the oldest Rookie of the Year in “500” history, and that the possibility of starting on the last row is there, too, as 2018 winner Will Power learned last year. Johnson said he would willingly accept either outcome.

“I’ll take whatever they pass out to the old guy,” he said.

Even the last row?

“That would be cool, a stat that I’d take a little pride in, for sure – absolutely,” he said.

Lyn St. James is the oldest winner of the Rookie of the Year, the distinction earned in 1992 at 45 years, 72 days. Johnson will be 46 years, 254 days when the green flag drops for the 106th Running on May 29.

Johnson is on a path to become the third-oldest rookie driver in “500” history. Those older: Jack Hewitt in 1998 and Jean Alesi in 2012. Alesi is the race’s oldest starter at 47 years, 128 days.

Johnson enjoyed Tuesday’s May debut, where he finished third on the day’s speed chart at 227.722 mph (third on the non-tow report, too) in the No. 48 Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, but he also knows there is so much more to come.

“You know, I felt like with COVID I maybe didn’t get the full experience in my final year in Cup,” he said of 2020. “Literally racing without fans for the majority of the year was a bummer and a letdown.

“But to come back to Indy and know that we’re going to have (an estimated 300,000), that makes me smile. I cannot wait to feel that energy on (Race Day).”

Haliburton Thrilled by First IMS Experience

Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton added to his IMS experience Tuesday by seeing NTT INDYCAR SERIES cars on the oval. On Saturday, he saw them on the road course as he rode in the Ruoff Mortgage Fastest Seat in Racing before the GMR Grand Prix.

“It was a great time, a great experience,” he said of the road course ride with 1969 “500” winner Mario Andretti. “He said we were going about 155 mph but on an oval we’d go way faster. So, we’re going to organize a time when I can get on the oval.”

Haliburton said Saturday was his first opportunity to see race cars in action, and he brought his mother to IMS to enjoy it with him. Like a lot of professional athletes who have gotten a taste of the high-speed action, Haliburton vowed to return.

“I’m supposed to go to (this year’s) Indy 500, but I might be going to Mexico that weekend,” he said. “I’ll be back here sometime. I want to bring my best friends, my girlfriend, everybody.”

Tuesday, Haliburton brought one of his autographed Pacers jerseys for reigning NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing (No. 10 NTT DATA Honda). They spent several minutes together talking in between practice sessions.

Odds And Ends

  • For the official record books, Scott McLaughlin (No. 3 Pennzoil Team Penske Chevrolet) was the first driver on the track for formal “500” practice.
  • While most of Tuesday’s action was in groups of cars, Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay (No. 21 Bitcoin Racing Team with BitNile Chevrolet) recorded the day’s fastest non-tow lap at 221.551 mph. Teammate and boss Ed Carpenter (No. 33 Alzamend Neuro Chevrolet) was second in that category at 220.869 mph.
  • Chip Ganassi Racing’s Hondas were three of the fastest four in Turn 1 trap speed, led by Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Honda) at 236.264 mph. Dixon was proud of his team’s early effort, but he cautioned: “It’s Day 1,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve seen anything from anybody.”
  • Marco Andretti (No. 98 KULR Technology/Curb Honda of Andretti Herta Autosport w/Marco & Curb) confirmed that his father, Michael, will again call his race strategy in the “500.” Father and son worked together last year after being apart on Race Day at IMS since 2011.
  • Tony Kanaan (No. 1 The American Legion Honda of Chip Ganassi Racing) is back where he belongs at IMS. The 2013 “500” champion has been racing Brazilian stock cars, including as recently as Sunday. That is Brazil’s primary series, with Rubens Barrichello, Felipe Massa, Ricardo Zonta and Nelson Piquet Jr. in the field.
  • Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2014 “500” champion, was confirmed Tuesday to a contract with Chip Ganassi Racing to help develop its Cadillac sports car program for 2023. The contract also makes him a substitute NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver.
  • While Jimmie Johnson can become the oldest winner of the Rookie of the Year award, Al Unser’s mark as the oldest winning driver of this event will stand for at least another year. Kanaan, the oldest driver in this field, will be 211 days younger at this year’s race than Unser was when he won in 1987. Kanaan and Helio Castroneves would be old enough to eclipse Unser in next year’s race.
  • Johnson said his wife didn’t enjoy watching the early laps of his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES oval race, held March 20 at Texas Motor Speedway. “But by the end she was jumping up and down as I was passing cars,” he said. He finished sixth in that race.
  • Just before 4 p.m. Tuesday, a fox ran on the track – during green conditions -- between Turns 3 and 4. Before the pack of cars arrived on the scene, the fox jumped safely over the outside wall.
  • IMS action will be from noon-6 p.m. each of the next three days, with live coverage on Peacock Premium.