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Jimmie Johnson leaves Long Beach with third crash but optimism about injury recovery

Jimmie Johnson provides his perspective after a Lap 73 wreck during the Grand Prix of Long Beach, in which he competed with a broken hand, and says he feels bad for putting the team in this position.

LONG BEACH, California – Three crashes, a fractured right hand and a 20th-place finish for Jimmie Johnson in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, his hometown race in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Believe it or not, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has had worse race weekends during his racing career – just ask his former crew chief, Chad Knaus, Johnson joked Sunday.

“We had to go to a couple of backups before we got to a race, maybe Darlington one year,” Johnson told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider in a postrace interview (video above). “But it comes with it. I certainly feel bad I put the team in this position, but I’m thankful for their support and the support from Carvana and my fan base.

“This deal isn’t easy, and you’ve got to live on the razor’s edge on these street courses. There’s no margin for error. And trying to be faster, more competitive. I made some mistakes this weekend. I’ll learn from them and come back even stronger.”

The hope is Johnson also will come back healthier after fracturing his right hand by nerfing his No. 48 Dallara-Honda into a Turn 5 tire barrier during practice Friday.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver will meet with a hand specialist Monday in North Carolina to determine if the hand requires a screw. Johnson is scheduled to return behind the wheel of his race car for an April 20-21 test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in a warmup for his expected Indy 500 debut next month.

The next race is May 1 at Barber Motorsports Park, a physically demanding road course.

“I feel like what I went through this weekend I can carry on like this for the next couple of weeks until I’ll be healed up,” Johnson said.

After the El Cajon, California, native considered skipping Long Beach to put an emphasis on Indy, Johnson managed to muddle through despite a seemingly incessant series of unfortunate turns.

After being fitted with a carbon fiber splint to stabilize the injury, Johnson returned to practice Saturday morning and slammed the tire barrier in Turn 1. He returned for qualifying and lost his two fastest laps because of a penalty for impeding Graham Rahal.

After starting 25th of 26 cars Sunday, Johnson was in 17th with 12 laps remaining when he lost traction and collided with the Turn 8 tire barrier in an accident that also collected rookie David Malukas.

Despite a small fire that sparked on his right-front tire, Johnson was fine and walked to the waiting safety vehicle with a wave to the Southern California crowd (which included dozens of friends and family for the second consecutive season).

Though his team thought he had help, replays seemed to indicate that Johnson lost control in the rubber buildup on corner entry.

“I lost it so early, I’m not sure if there was contact from behind or not,” he said. “But either way, the rubber is unlike anything I’d ever seen before; inches of rubber stacked up around the racetrack, especially before that last caution. Just very interesting to figure out where to place the car and how to drive on that rubber. I think I was just wide on corner entry and potentially had my left rear in that rubber and just spun on the way in.”

Though attrition helped Johnson finish better than a 23rd in the season opener at St. Petersburg, he still came up short of matching his Long Beach debut last September.

“I thought I was going to limp to a decent finish with my hand in the situation it was in,” Johnson said. “I thought I was going to get a 16th- or 17th-place finish. Instead, I ended back up in the tire barriers.”

And back in a doctor’s office Monday – with hopefully a good prognosis for when “Jimmie-Mania” hits Indianapolis after his career-best sixth at Texas Motor Speedway last month.

“I’m not sure what is the best pathway forward, the shortest recovery time,” Johnson said. “I’ll know more (Monday) afternoon.”