With seven NASCAR Cup titles and seven of his 83 Cup wins coming from Texas Motor Speedway, some people might consider Jimmie Johnson to be a favorite to win his first NTT IndyCar Series oval race, which takes place at TMS on Sunday. He just isn’t one of those people.
“I don’t think that’s realistic,” said the driver of the No. 48 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. “Some people may have that expectation and that’s fine. I would love that to be the case. Whenever you enter the new series, you’re with the regulars, they’re so good at what they do. We have seen it when drivers try to cross over from various series. I certainly have higher expectations for myself, but I’m not thinking I’m going to show up, qualify on pole, lead the most laps and win the race.”
As an oval ace trying to become a contender on IndyCar’s road and street courses, Texas offers Johnson the first opportunity since his switch from NASCAR to draw from decades of subject matter expertise.
“I think directionally, ovals really work in my favor,” he said. “When you go to a road or street course and the track is so long, it takes a long time for rubber to go down, the grip level changes on the racetrack, the balance changes in the car. You have this moving target. Especially on a street course where you only race on it once a year from lap one to the last lap of the race, the track change so much. I don’t have any experience with that.
“When we unload with a setup, I form an opinion; that session is over, the next day we get one more session, the track has changed again — I’m trying to chase that target. It’s an environment that experience really does pay off in. I think there’s less of that on ovals. You’ll have all the cars on track straight away. It is a shorter lap, rubber goes down quicker. You create a more stable environment for me to learn in and adjust the race car to.”
So what should we expect from Johnson on his IndyCar debut at the daunting 1.5-mile oval with 26 other drivers to deal with?
“I really feel like I need to be further up in the field,” he said. “I certainly feel like qualifying, having the opportunity to qualify on the oval this weekend, in the equipment I’ll be in, I should be able to have a career-best starting position, then look forward from there, try to understand traffic, race my way into the top 10, top 5 if possible.”