Jimmie Johnson recharging for Indy 500 with a trip to see ‘Team Johnson’ in Charlotte
INDIANAPOLIS – At the conclusion of Monday’s two-hour practice session for the 106th Indy 500, the 33 drivers in the starting lineup all had media and sponsor duties over the next 48 hours before Carb Day.
Several top names were headed to New York, and others will took care of business in Indianapolis to prepare for Sunday’s Indy 500.
Jimmie Johnson, however, had “Carolina on his Mind.”
The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion boarded his private plane and flew back to his home in Charlotte, North Carolina, to spend time with his wife, Chandra, and daughters, Genevieve and Lydia (he also been working at Indy with his father, Gary, one of his spotters for practices and the race).
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It’s one way to clear his mind and prepare for one of the biggest challenges in his racing career as he starts 12th in Sunday’s race (11 a.m. ET, NBC).
“I’d be on my way now, if I didn’t have plenty of debriefing to do,” Johnson, who has been commuting from Indy to Carolina for much of the month, said after practice Monday. “It’s going to be nice to get home. My wife was out of the country for a week, and I saw her and the kids briefly for a couple of hours on qualifying day, and that’s been it.
“I’m eager to get home, see Team Johnson and get some time with them. Help out around the house. Chani has been super mom trying to do what she does for her career, plus the kids, plus support me. It will be nice to get home for a couple of days.”
Johnson will be making a quick jaunt Wednesday to New York to appear on Jimmy Fallon’s NBC show, but it’s otherwise all about his race car this week.
On the track, Monday’s two-hour practice session was very important as Johnson’s team hones in on race setup instead of qualification speed.
Johnson’s No. 48 Carvana/American Legion Honda ended Monday’s two-hour practice as the third fastest at 228.467 mph behind Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Alex Palou (229.441) and Scott Dixon (229), who still was feeling the momentum of his fifth pole position. Another Ganassi driver, Marcus Ericsson, was fifth (228.017).
“Great start to the week, nice to get back into race trim and get a sense of the car,” Johnson said. “Things keep changing. The track keeps evolving. It was nice to work through some changes and try to find neutral in the car again by myself, then work my way into traffic and put up some good lap times and competitive passes over other cars.
“Small little gains each time I’m out there. I’m learning a little bit more and putting a better race car under myself each time I’m out there.”
Johnson believes Monday’s laps were as important as any he has run at Indianapolis since the track opened for practice on May 17.
“They are all important and as we look at the forecast, we could be wet on Friday for Carb Day,” Johnson said. “This could be the last race trim running that we do before the 500. I’m glad we focused on what we did. Last week, conditions were different, and the car behaved differently. I’m glad we were as methodical on adjustments and changes on the car today.”
Johnson welcomed a “lower energy, lower stress day” on Monday. His weekend -- from posting the fastest four-lap average Saturday morning before making the Fast 12 to nearly crashing on his opening qualifying lap Sunday -- was an emotional roller coaster.
“From an energy standpoint, yesterday was the peak of it all with the excitement trying to make the Fast Six,” Johnson said. “I’m ready to take a few days off, get my batteries recharged and be ready to go for the Indianapolis 500.
“I’m sure after Sunday, I’ll be a lot smarter.”
As an Indy 500 rookie, Johnson still has been one of the month’s most consistent drivers since posting the third-fastest speed on opening day.
“We’ve had a great car,” Johnson said. “I wish we could have put it together for qualifying. I feel like I could have been in that Fast Six.
“To have my main disappointment be 12th on the grid, that’s pretty damn awesome.”