Ganassi on Johnson’s INDYCAR potential: “He’s going to get there.”
It was midway through the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season and team owner Chip Ganassi was sitting in his campervan at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course talking about a variety of topics.
It was the weekend of July 4th, and understandably the # 48 Honda Carvana / American Legion owner was asked about Jimmie Johnson’s progress in INDYCAR. Johnson, one of three drivers to win seven NASCAR Cup Series championships, had started the season slowly as he methodically tried to learn the dramatically different form of racing.
Asked about Johnson’s progress, the INDYCAR team owner gave a very empowering answer.
“Jimmie is climbing a mountain in the fog,” Ganassi said. “When you climb a mountain and you’ve never been in the fog before, you don’t know how close you are to the top.
“If you call the top being there (like Ganassi was holding his hands to one foot) he’s a lot closer than the timesheets and the results would lead you to believe. It comes from a lot of people on the team.
Throughout his career, Ganassi has always had the ability to recognize talent and analyze progress. Drivers named Alex Zanardi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti have thrived at Chip Ganassi Racing.
“Look at how Jimmie started the shoot yesterday and look at what he did today,” Ganassi continued in Mid-Ohio last July. “He jumps, but it doesn’t look like much when you look at the scoresheet. “The guy has never been here before, and he’s in an Indy car, the first time in an open wheel car. He’s making giant strides and he’s going to get there.
“When you’re in the fog, you don’t know where the top of the mountain is, and it’s closer than he thinks.”
When told about Ganassi’s comments about climbing a mountain in the fog and not realizing how close he is to the top, Johnson smiled.
“I think it’s a great analogy for that and helps explain some of the mistakes I’ve made in racing,” Johnson said. “My stress level continues to increase and I don’t realize I’m at the top of the car’s capacity and sometimes I overtake. But I was very controlled and smart in my approach to things and it gave me the confidence to push.
One of Ganassi’s favorite currencies is “#ChipLovesWinners”. Ganassi loves champions too, and that’s one of the things that drew Ganassi to Johnson when the former big NASCAR wanted to move to INDYCAR.
“Champions are just that, champions,” said Ganassi. “Champions are champions for a reason, and guys who are multiple times champions are multiple champions for a reason.
“Usually that’s their work ethic. “
In 2021, Johnson competed on the street and road courses of the INDYCAR SERIES calendar. Tony Kanaan took over the # 48 American Legion Honda in the 105th Indianapolis 500 and the three other oval races on the schedule.
After learning the ropes in INDYCAR after the Mid-Ohio contest, Johnson was confident he could progress in the second half of the season.
Outside of the disappointing Big Machine Music City Grand Prix weekend in August, Johnson started a streak of races that showed continuous improvement from race to race. He started 22nd and finished 19th in the Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in August. He showed continuous improvement in Portland in September and saved his best for the last two races of the season.
He started 25th and got very racy, especially in the famous “Corkscrew” at Laguna Seca. He passed star drivers such as Will Power, Alexander Rossi, Takuma Sato, James Hinchcliffe, Rinus VeeKay and the last quadruple Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves to finish 17th.
The following weekend at the Long Beach Acura Grand Prix, Johnson saved the best for last. He started 27th but advanced 10 positions on the difficult street course to finish 17th.
His rookie season was over and he received praise from the boss.
“He was fabulous,” Ganassi said. “It went pretty much as planned. Par for the course. He did well. Now we’re going to take him to the ovals, do some tests and his career is still on the rise.
“I see its trajectory at the start of the year, the angle of its trajectory has increased, not decreased. In other words, instead of doing that, he’s doing this, ”Ganassi said with more hand movements. “The angle of its attack and its trajectory increases, does not decrease.”
There is more to come for the American Legion, Johnson and Chip Ganassi Racing in 2022. In December, Johnson announced he would compete in all races in the 2022 NTT INYCAR SERIES program, including the 106th Indianapolis 500 on May 29. .
The American Legion will continue to be the primary associate sponsor of Johnson’s No.48 Chevrolet with Carvana as the primary sponsor for each race except the doubles program at Iowa Speedway, where she will be the primary sponsor for the ‘one of the races.
The Legion will also serve as the main sponsor for some of the other CGR drivers, including 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Alex Palou and “oval ace” Tony Kanaan. These agreements will be announced in the future.
The relationship between the American Legion, Chip Ganassi Racing and INDYCAR continues to develop.
“It’s an honor,” Ganassi said. “I didn’t realize how important the American Legion was to our country and what it meant to things like the GI Bill and Agent Orange and all the initiatives they’ve taken.
“It’s not just a smoky bar where the guys drink cheap beers; it’s a really, really great organization and I can’t wait to do more with them.