INDIANAPOLIS – One of the rookie drivers next year in the NTT IndyCar Series is expected to be seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson.
Before Johnson heads to Talladega Superspeedway for what will likely be his final Cup Series race at that famed restrictor-plate superspeedway, Johnson was at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Thursday working with his new Indy car team, Chip Ganassi Racing.
Johnson and Chip Ganassi Racing announced on Sept. 9 that it was their intention he would compete in all of the road course and street course events on the NTT IndyCar Series calendar in 2021 pending sponsorship and budget.
To help acclimate himself to the different form of racing, the stock car star was paying close attention to Chip Ganassi Racing’s trio of drivers, including five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon and second-year drivers Felix Rosenqvist and Marcus Ericsson.
“I’m at ground zero right now,” Johnson said Thursday. “I’m a 45-year-old rookie trying to learn my way into a new sport.”
Johnson’s seven NASCAR Cup Series championships ties him with Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt for most titles by any Cup Series driver. His 83 wins is tied with Cale Yarborough for sixth on the all-time NASCAR list and tops among active drivers.
While his focus is on Sunday’s NASCAR race at Talladega Superspeedway, Johnson is already learning his new series.
“My goal today is to learn everything, honestly,” Johnson said. “I had a nice reminder to how things were during my test session. I’m used to my helmet hanging in my NASCAR vehicle. I showed up to the car for my test session without a helmet, so I had to go back to the truck to get it.
“The smallest of details, I pick up on. It’s nice today to see how a session starts, jump on the radio, listen to how the sound systems work and then get in my car for the setup.”
Johnson is confident of arranging a sponsorship package that will allow him to move forward with Chip Ganassi Racing in 2021.
“It’s gone really well,” he said. “The fact I’m here today is a great sign of the way things are going. I’m looking forward to getting behind the wheel of a car soon. Hopefully, I’ll have some announcements to share soon.
“As soon as I get in the car, I’m going to take the opportunity to get some seat time.”
Once his NASCAR season concludes with the final race of the season at Phoenix Raceway in November, Johnson said he will spend a great deal of time in the Honda and Dallara simulators to prepare for his switch to IndyCar in 2021.
Fellow driver Tony Kanaan, who is winding down his career this season after running his final non-Indianapolis 500 race at World Wide Technology Speedway in August, believes Johnson has some tremendous assets at Chip Ganassi Racing.
“He’s going to be Scott Dixon’s teammate,” Kanaan said. “That’s bigger than anything else. He has a big challenge ahead of learning the car and learning the tracks and how to race these types of races. He has Dario Franchitti as a driver coach and Scott Dixon as a teammate. That’s a good combination for a seven-time champion.
“I can’t wait until next year to see what he can do.”