Johnson can’t wait to get in the car to Indy

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Jimmie Johnson was in a 120-degree sauna and climbed as part of an hour-long sweating session preparing him for a run on hot summer days. It’s part of a fitness routine that calls for mental exercises to be done while roasting in the sweat bath, but Johnson was knocking out phone calls instead.

He wanted to talk about his first weekend at the Indianapolis 500 on Wednesday, where the seven-time NASCAR champion was on the NBC Sports broadcast team for two days of qualifying. Johnson had never attended any part of the Indy 500.

If the rules had allowed it, he could have kicked Tony Kanaan out of his car.

“I knew it was going to go one way or the other, I was going to be totally against the oval run or see that the next realistic step is a test session,” Johnson told The Associated Press.

What he learned last weekend is that the driver’s approach to the Indianapolis 500 is reminiscent of how his NASCAR peers are heading to races at Daytona and Talladega, where speeds are higher and accidents are frequent.

“I have in my mind that these IndyCar drivers go into these oval races like we do a restriction plate race and it’s a much more calculated and conservative approach in an Indy car because of the risks, due to the speeds,” Johnson said. “I understand the surroundings a lot better and I’m getting more comfortable. I don’t know Texas Motor Speedway, but for the Indy 500 itself, I’m definitely getting more comfortable.”

Johnson will be back with the NBC team this weekend to analyze the Indy 500 and watch his four Ganassi teammates try to win on Sunday. All four qualified in the top three, with Scott Dixon on pole and Kanaan, the oldest rider in the field at 46, starting fifth.

The irony is that Kanaan might not even be in the running without Johnson’s crazy idea of ​​retiring from NASCAR and switching to IndyCar at the age of 45. But Johnson only wanted to do road classes and street, which left four oval races open for the # 48 Honda.

Kanaan had expected to be retired from IndyCar this season, but Johnson signed him for the ovals. Now the Brazilian is a contender for a second Indy 500 victory with a good week around Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Kanaan has renewed energy for him this month – even though he joked, Johnson looms over his shoulder, likely wanting the car to return immediately.

“I grew my beard so Jimmie didn’t feel so old. I know how much he is in pain,” Kanaan said. “The better I do, the more Jimmie will want to get in the car. I can see that. This will probably be my last year with the 48, if it’s going like that.”

Johnson is no longer set, at a minimum, to test on an oval and determine if that gives him an Indy 500 seat next year. This current deal with Ganassi for Johnson and Kanaan is two years, and Kanaan is in full swing.

“We know he’s super good and we know he’s one of the guys to beat and we know he enjoys this death race,” Dixon said. “The whole program when he got together was just the perfect fit for Tony and no one doubted he was going to be quick as hell at Indy. He’s so relaxed and so excited to have a car that can win. the race. “

This puts Johnson in an odd situation as he soaks up the race on Sunday as a broadcaster as his desire to participate in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” takes hold. His wife and two daughters won’t be at Indy this weekend – and it’s Johnson’s wife Chani, who is also set to sign an oval race – but team owner Chip Ganassi understands that a test is probably on an upcoming schedule.

“He knows where my head is on all of this and the trip to run on an oval and if I had to pick just one oval of course that would be the 500,” Johnson said. “But there is a lot to do on my side to be 100% for the 500 next year. And the same for CGR, what is the team like? See in a few months where it all comes down.



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