By Christian Koelle, Staff Writer
The old Jimmie Johnson was back Saturday at Iowa Speedway.
For the first time in his NTT Data IndyCar Series career, Johnson raced on a short-track Saturday. As many noted, he was back in his environment. An environment that he had spent 22 years around in NASCAR. Despite spending 22 years in NASCAR, Saturday’s race was his first at Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa as the long-time Xfinity Series stand-alone track never saw the 7-time NASCAR Cup Series champion.
You wouldn’t have noticed that by how he raced Saturday.
Despite spinning early in Saturday’s race, Johnson was putting on what many would call a clinic. Dodging and weaving his way through lapped traffic and up to the fifth position. If it hadn’t of been for tire wear, Johnson may have very well left race one at Iowa Speedway with a new career-best finish. Johnson even led 19 laps on Saturday pushing his total laps led in the NTT Data IndyCar Series to 21 after he led two laps in the 106th Indianapolis 500 earlier this year.
“I learned a lot out there, and I’m glad we get to come back and do it again tomorrow,” said Johnson. “I think I now have a better idea of what I need my car to do next time. We were a little aggressive with our [chassis] setup, and that was hard on the right rear tire. It really showed itself at the end of each run, so that unfortunately cost us several positions in the final laps. It was great battling [with several series front runners], I learned a lot from several other drivers, but I think the most fun I had was with VeeKay. I learned some race craft that is specific to Indy car racing, it’s a lot different.”
With the solid run on Saturday, the NTT Data IndyCar Series paddock may need to put Johnson on a watch list. In his IndyCar career so far, Johnson has never visited an oval twice in his career. He made his IndyCar oval debut earlier this year at Texas where his career-best finish of sixth came. With a return to Iowa Speedway on Sunday, Johnson finally has a slight notebook to take with him and that could very well be dangerous.
Just ask the NASCAR garage, a dangerous Johnson isn’t someone you mess around with.
The NTT Data IndyCar Series returns to action on Sunday with the HY-VEE Salute to Farmers 300 at Iowa Speedway. NBC’s broadcast of Sunday’s race will kick off at 3:30 p.m. ET and will also be available on Sirius XM and IndyCar Radio.