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With co-driver Jimmie Johnson set to arrive, Tony Kanaan paces Indy 500 practice

Jimmie Johnson Kanaan Indy

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Tony Kanaan (48) makes his way into his car Thursday, May 20, 2021, during day three of practice for the 105th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Day 3 Of Indy 500 Practice Photos

Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar via Imagn Content Services, LLC

INDIANAPOLIS –Jimmie Johnson isn’t driving at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend, but the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion might have something big to celebrate in person at the storied track.

On the eve of Johnson’s arrival at Indy (where he will be a studio analyst on NBC Sports’ qualifying coverage Saturday and Sunday), No. 48 Dallara-Honda co-driver Tony Kanaan turned the fastest lap Thursday on the third day of Indy 500 practice.

The 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner outpaced Conor Daly (225.245), Santino Ferrucci (224.922 before he crashed and injured his left foot), Josef Newgarden (224.885) and Scott Dixon (224.666).

Though the “Fast Friday” session will feature a turbo boost of about 90 horsepower that will offer a better preview of pole qualifying Sunday, Kanaan consistently has been among the fastest, and Ganassi has led practice for the past two days (with Dixon topping Wednesday).

THURSDAY SPEED CHART: Click here to view who was fastest on Day 3

COMBINED PRACTICE RESULTS: Top speeds through the first three days

“All in all I think we’re having a strong week as far as racing,” Kanaan told NBC Sports reporter Dillon Welch. “I won’t be able to sleep tonight. Tomorrow night’s going to be worse. But if I didn’t have this feeling, I’d say it would be time not to be doing this. I love it.”

With Johnson (who also will be an NBC analyst for the May 30 race), committed exclusively to the 13 road and street course races this season (most recently finishing 24th at the IMS road course last week), Kanaan is driving the No. 48 on ovals – starting with the doubleheader three weeks ago at Texas Motor Speedway (while Johnson went dirt bike riding with his daughter Lydia).

Though they have spent time together at the Chip Ganassi Racing shop for commercial shoots, Kanaan and Johnson have yet to spend a day together at the racetrack as teammates.

But Kanaan said Johnson “has been calling every day” since his Texas debut in the No. 48.

“I’m like if you wanted not to run, why did you invite me, because you’re going to bother me every bloody day,” the 2004 IndyCar champion said jokingly. “call me twice (to ask) ‘How it’s going? How’s this? how’s that?’

JIMMIE JOHNSON WATCH, RACE 3: Another day of learning at Indy GMR GP

“So he’s excited. It’s great to see how engaged he is even when he’s not in the race. So it’s been a blast. I’m pretty sure he’s going to pop up and see how it’s going. Yeah, I don’t know. Maybe he gets excited. I don’t know what’s going to happen if he gets excited. Going to have to find another car if he wants to drive the 48.”

Kanaan, who has one more race at Wide World Technology Raceway after the Indy 500, said he will be attending a couple of more IndyCar races this season to watch Johnson, “but I’ll be just another guy.

“We have (Ganassi consultant) Dario (Franchitti) there who is helping him quite a bit,” Kanaan said. “He has the best coach. But yeah, it will be interesting to see Jimmie in the timing stand.”