Pruett's cooldown lap: Long Beach

Jake Galstad/Motorsport Images

Pruett's cooldown lap: Long Beach

Insights & Analysis

Pruett's cooldown lap: Long Beach

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POINTS REPORT

Plenty of comers and goers in the championship standings after Long Beach. Josef Newgarden’s gone from 16th to fourth to the top of the order in three races. Teammate Scott McLaughlin’s first error of the year came at the expense of the championship lead, but he only fell to second. The most consistent driver of the year, Penske’s Will Power, had the odd outcome of placing fourth in the race — after going third at St. Pete and fourth at Texas, which left him in second entering Long Beach — and dropping to fourth.

Alex Palou’s podium helped him to retain third and Ganassi brother Marcus Ericsson was on pace to finish near the podium and improve from fifth, but with his crash, he retreated to eighth. After him, the most notable change belonged to Romain Grosjean whose second-place run propelled him from 10th to sixth and top Andretti driver in the championship. Teammate Colton Herta’s crash came with a dive from seventh to 11th, and while finishing eighth was less than what Andretti’s Alexander Rossi wanted, it did manage to shoot him from 27th to 18th.

The last major mover of note was Pato O’Ward who rediscovered some of his mojo in the race and used a fifth-place finish to motor from 13th to ninth in the standings.

We left Texas with the top six owned by Penske and Ganassi drivers, but with Ericsson’s dip in fortunes, it’s down to the top five with Andretti’s Grosjean leading the incursion ahead of Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay in seventh who had a quiet Long Beach weekend and finished 13th.

CLASSIC DIXIE

Scott Dixon provided the perfect summary of his race in an IG post that said everything: “16th-6th. We threw everything at the race today: In laps, out laps, heavy fuel saving, great pit stops. The car feels good and I feel the wins will come soon. On to Barber!”

Not much has come without a fight this season for the six-time IndyCar champion, but that isn’t entirely abnormal. Barring his last championship where the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing squad led from start to finish, most of Dixon’s title runs have included stretches where big results have been elusive. There is, however, something slightly amiss for the CGR driver who, after three races, has yet to visit the podium.

That’s only happened two other times since joining CGR in 2003. Dixon never got close to an early podium in 2005, his worst season of IndyCar racing when a remarkably underpowered Toyota engine forced the New Zealander to learn how to save massive amounts of fuel in order to give himself and the team more options on using race strategy to overcome the power deficit. He’d go on to finish a distant 13th in the championship that year.

The only other time he missed the podium during the first three races was in 2018 where he went on to score his fifth title. Dixie sits in fifth leaving Long Beach.

The other classic Scott Dixon moment of the weekend was getting collected by spinning teammate Marcus Ericsson and motoring on unscathed. Jake Galstad/Motorsport

HAMMER TIME

Long Beach holds an annual event leading into the race where it inducts new members to its Walk of Fame; Bill Auberlen, Oriol Servia, and Willy T. Ribbs are among the recent additions. After losing count of how many drivers in the various races held over the weekend plowed into Turn 8, it’s time for Long Beach to follow Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal and appoint the corner as its official Wall of Fame.

JIMMIE JAM

It was a brutal for Jimmie Johnson who found the barriers in three of the five sessions. The easy take would be to hurl criticisms in his direction, and while it wasn’t easy to watch the Ganassi driver suffer at his home race, I was left with immense respect from the grit and determination he showed after fracturing his wrist in the crash on Friday when his right hand got caught in the spinning steering wheel.

I had the same exact thing happen in 1990 when I crashed in qualifying for an SCCA Formula Ford race at Sonoma Raceway: I got offline cresting the hill entering Turn 2, lost traction on the marbles and fired straight into the barriers, which whipped the steering wheel to the left before I could get my right hand off the wheel. I didn’t know it at the time, but I fractured my right wrist, and unlike Johnson, I couldn’t muster the mental strength to fight through the pain and complete the weekend.

Johnson’s sophomore IndyCar season has been filled with more adversity than anyone anticipated, but he’s pushing harder and trying to get faster. I’d rather see that than playing it safe, and of the obvious steps to make, finding the happy medium between charging harder into and out of the road and street circuit corners without losing control is where the greatest improvements need to be made.

It’s easy to lift into a corner, keep the car settled, and romp on the throttle on the way out, but that’s slow. It’s also somewhat easy to fly into a corner and then back out of the throttle and coast through the exit, but that hurts your elapsed time on the next straight. Tying both sides of the corner together with ragged speed in and out is how the best IndyCar drivers distinguish themselves from the rest. With 14 total open-wheel road and street races to his credit, Johnson clearly needs more seasoning to find the cornering feel he’s been chasing.

He also refuses to let critics steal his joy, which is another testament to his inner fortitude. Following surgery to fix his wrist on Monday, Johnson was on the Chevy driver-in-the-loop simulator on Tuesday preparing for next week’s Indy Open Test and then heads to Barber Motorsports Park to continue his road racing journey.

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