Jimmie Johnson is still working through the sharp learning curve that comes with switching from one highly competitive racing discipline after two decades to a totally different one.
With a record-tying seven NASCAR Cup Series championships on his resume, Johnson retired from NASCAR and kicked off the 2021 IndyCar Series season as a 45-year-old rookie living out his childhood dream. This season, Johnson is competing in 13 road and street courses behind the wheel of the No. 48 Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing, while IndyCar veteran Tony Kanaan is racing on the ovals.
But jumping from stock cars to open-wheeled ones is no easy task. For Johnson’s first IndyCar race at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama, he was thrilled to not qualify last and satisfied just to have finished the race.
Johnson finished 19th of 24 drivers at Barber in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, he was 22nd in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and 24th in the GMR Grand Prix on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course.
“I had fun. I can’t hide from the fact that I’m a rookie. I can’t overstate enough just how different IndyCar is from NASCAR,” Johnson told the Detroit Free Press. “From car to procedures, race format, across the board tracks, everything is new. I really do feel like I’m starting over.”
A doubleheader means double the effort. Here’s a look at the changes I’ve made in my program to be ready. pic.twitter.com/YegwSVQ2Pb
— Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) June 8, 2021
After Kanaan took over for the Indianapolis 500 while Johnson was part of NBC Sports’ broadcast team, Johnson will return to the track for the Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader Saturday and Sunday.
Though it’s still early in Johnson’s rookie season, For The Win asked his Chip Ganassi Racing teammates — Kanaan, Scott Dixon, Alex Palou and Marcus Ericsson — to evaluate his performance so far and offer a letter grade.