Sunday afternoon, seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson made his IndyCar debut at Barber Motorsports Park. He celebrated the moment with a heartfelt post on social media. Johnson showed himself in full racing gear while hugging his two daughters.
Johnson’s wife and daughters have long supported him before and after races. They were on pit road at Phoenix Raceway in November 2020 as he prepared to get behind the wheel of the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro for the final time. Now they are joining him for an entirely different racing series, one in which he has the “rookie” designation next to his name.
Following the heartfelt embrace with his family, Johnson climbed into the driver’s seat of the No. 48 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda and headed to the starting grid for his first IndyCar race. He then dealt with some wild situations on the track that tested his reflexes and skills behind the wheel.
The IndyCar race started with a wreck that collected several cars
Johnson’s IndyCar debut started in wild fashion. He came over a blind hill and had to make a quick decision. A massive wreck happened on the first lap after two-time series champion Josef Newgarden went off the track and then spun back into traffic where he brought the race to a halt. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Colton Herta both saw their days come to a close after less than one lap of action, but they were only two of the six cars involved.
The “rookie” in Johnson managed to avoid the on-track incident. He slowed his vehicle to a crawl and then navigated around the wreckage. By doing so he achieved his goal. He did not finish his first IndyCar race in the last place. He worked his way up to the 16th position as the race went back to green.
“I got loose coming over the hill, I just got loose in the wake,” Newgarden said after the wreck to NBC Sports. “I thought I had the car and then touched the grass. Once I touched the grass, that pitched me sideways.”
Avoiding wrecks is nothing new for Johnson despite the change in vehicle. He has spent the past 20 years avoiding massive wrecks at Daytona International Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway, Darlington Raceway, and the other top NASCAR tracks. He just used his skills in a different manner on Sunday afternoon.
Johnson dealt with struggles of his own on Sunday
While he managed to avoid the massive wreck on the first lap, Johnson still had a minor issue arise later in the race. He went down a hill and around a corner but lost control of his race car. He spun around and came to a halt in the grass next to the track. Johnson avoided the wall and causing damage to his vehicle but still brought out the caution flag for the other drivers.
“Well, I learned a lesson in dirty air there,” Johnson told his pit crew over the radio. There were questions about what caused the incident, and the veteran driver provided the answer. IndyCar reporter Patrick Stephan added that Johnson was not expecting the loss of downforce.
Johnson fell one lap down after the spin and dropped to the 19th position. He still remained ahead of former Formula 1 driver Max Chilton and Felix Rosenqvist, who both returned several laps down after repairs to their respective race cars.
The seven-time NASCAR champion entered his rookie IndyCar season with an expectation that he would face a steep learning curve. Johnson was accurate in his assessment. Now he will move on to the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg after a 19th-place finish in Alabama.