DETROIT – Jimmie Johnson has won a record-tying seven NASCAR Cup Series championships and 83 checkered flags.
At 45 years old, Johnson retired from NASCAR and took on open-wheel racing, which he said has been a steep learning curve.
“I have to say I was a little naïve. I thought it would be less steep on a chart, thought it would be more linear. I’ve been totally wrong. These cars are much different than I anticipated. Not only learning new cars, but new tracks,” he said.
Johnson is a racing veteran but an IndyCar rookie. This season, he’s competing in 13 road and street courses for Chip Ganassi Racing.
“What I’m finding is the performance increase in the IndyCar is requiring me to recalibrate my senses -- breaking, turning, accelerating. I’m doing more than I ever had. I think I’m at the limit of the car. Then I see the lap time and realize I’m slow, dig into the data. I realize I’m not at the potential of the car,” he said.
Johnson said he’s increasing his effort on and off the track. Each race, he’s getting more confident.
Detroit will be his fourth and fifth races behind the wheel of the No. 48 Honda. He said he’s heard that Belle Isle can be brutal.
“Limited in visibility, commitment level is very high with zero margin for error. Belle Isle is extremely rough and bouncy for inside the car, so I’m told. And then it’s a race on Saturday and a race on Sunday,” Johnson said.
Racing fans know Johnson well, spotted high immediately Friday in the Fifth Third Bank paddock. He has a huge following hoping he finds he success he had in stock cars in open-wheel racing.
Johnson said he’s ready to learn something new every day, and he takes the jokes from the 20-year-old drivers in stride.
“My teammate, Alex Palou, didn’t mean to but we were in a team dinner at the first race at Barber. He came to the discovery that I was older than his father, and he let those words come out of his mouth in front of the entire team,” he said.