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Placing priority on Indy 500, Jimmie Johnson weighed skipping Long Beach with injury

Jimmie Johnson Indy injury

LONG BEACH, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 08: NTT IndyCar Series driver Jimmie Johnson attends the driver introductions at the 2022 Acura Grand Prix Of Long Beach on April 08, 2022 in Long Beach, California. (Photo by Greg Doherty/Getty Images)

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LONG BEACH, California – Though he will attempt to race through injury in Sunday’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, Jimmie Johnson said the Indy 500 remains the priority.

Mindful of an April 20-21 test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver said he contacted “many specialists on the West Coast and East Coast” after fracturing his right hand in a practice accident Friday on the 11-turn, 1.968-mile street course.

Johnson wanted assurance that he could avoid further damage to his hand during the 85-lap race Sunday (3 p.m. ET, NBC).

“I’m more focused on Indy, as much as I want to be here, if I had to give this one up to make sure that I’m ready for (the May 1 race at) Barber (Motorsports Park), the test in two weeks, or the 500, I was willing to forego this,” said Johnson, who considers Long Beach his hometown race having attended numerous times as a frequent fan while growing up in El Cajon, California. “But this morning things started to improve as I worked in the cockpit, worked on the splint. And I’ve ended up in a really good spot with it.”

The No. 48 Dallara-Honda will start 25th of 26 cars with Johnson wearing a carbon fiber splint to support his broken bone.

Despite another shunt with a tire barrier during Saturday morning practice, Johnson said he had no pain while driving, which he credited to the efficacy of the splint designed by Dr. Terry Trammell.

“It’s holding up and doing well,” he told NBC Sports reporter Marty Snider. “I made some mistakes certainly trying to get better in a certain part of the braking zone of the corner. I’m just trying to reel it back in and drive laps that I knew I was capable of there in qualifying and build on that for the race.”

With dozens of family and friends on hand in a trackside suite he rented, Johnson is hoping to match the success of his Long Beach debut last September when he started 27th and finished 17th in the 2021 season finale.

“I’m on damage control with my hand,” he said in a postqualifying video. “I’ll just work my way forward if I can. I’m sure attrition will come into play. Hopefully, my hand will hold up and get me through the race, log laps and gain some points. We’re sitting tied for 10th in the championship, so I want to earn as many points as I can to stay as high in the points as possible.”

Surely, things have to be better on track after an eventful 24 hours at Long Beach for Johnson, who tweeted a video Saturday night encapsulating the saga with a behind-the-scenes look at how his carbon fiber splint was made.

In qualifying Saturday, Johnson lost his two fastest laps after being penalized for obstruction after “a little confusion merging onto the racetrack” resulted in his No. 48 blocking Graham Rahal’s No. 15 Honda of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

“I think it’s a tough spot down there in (Turn) 1,” Rahal, who just missed advancing from the first round of qualifying, told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee. “Jimmie came out, and I was surprised. I thought he was going to stay right and let us through. But at the end of the day, as you can see with (teammate) Jack (Harvey), our cars are not easy to drive. It’s very, very hard to get the lap time out of it. Just got to keep working on it.

“Close call there. That is not the place you like to have it. But Jimmie is going through enough this weekend.”