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Seven-Timer Now An IndyCar Full-Timer

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, December 18 2021

Jimmie Johnson will run the full IndyCar schedule in 2022.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

After a season of acclimating himself to the rigors of open-wheel racing, Jimmie Johnson is going all-in.

The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion will contest the full, 17-race NTT IndyCar Series schedule in 2022_ including the 106th running of the Indianapolis 500 _ in the No. 48 Honda fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing. Online auto retailer Carvana will return as primary sponsor for all but one of the races, with The American Legion to be featured on the No. 48 at Iowa Speedway in Newton in July.

Johnson drove in INDYCAR’s 12 road-and-street events in 2021 as an open-wheel rookie, scoring a career-best finish of 17th on the Streets of Long Beach. Johnson logged his initial open-wheel oval laps around Texas Motor Speedway’s high-banked/1.5-mile oval during a private test session on Aug. 30. He later completed INDYCAR’s acclaimed Rookie Orientation Program on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway shortly after the season concluded.

While the Indy 500 remains the centerpiece of the series schedule, Johnson’s official oval-track debut will take place at TMS during the XPEL 375 on March 20. The second race on the 2022 schedule, the XPEL 375 is the only oval-track event booked before the Indy 500 on May 29.  Five of the series’ 17-races will be contested on ovals in 2022.

“I’m really excited about this next chapter of my career and competing in the No. 48 with Carvana for the 2022 season,” Johnson, 46, said in a team release. “The safety of these cars has come so far, and after I tested the ovals at Texas and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I realized this was a challenge I wanted to undertake.

Jimmie Johnson wants to add IndyCar trophies to his hardware collection.

“I’m thankful for Chip, Carvana and all who made this possible. Last season was so incredible for me and I made a lot of progress, so I know I can be competitive on tracks that I have experience on. I can’t wait to be part of the Indianapolis 500 _ it’s a childhood dream come true.”

Johnson scored a track-record seven victories at TMS during his stellar NASCAR Cup career in a series of Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets.

“To know that I could come here (TMS) and test and experience it as a driver was important to me,” Johnson said after logging his first open-wheel test laps. “Let’s go to the tough one. It’s one thing by myself. I feel like I can control my environment, and I’m very thankful that I’m able to go out here and do it.

“I know where I am, I know what to do, I know the line around this place, and even down to simple things like knowing where the hotel was last night or knowing how to drive into the tunnel and get into the infield. There’s been some small wins that are nice to have.”

Johnson will compete at “No Limits, Texas” against a stacked field of oval experts led by CGR teammate and six-time series champion Scott Dixon, who scored his record fifth TMS victory in the opener of last May’s doubleheader program. Native Mexican and San Antonio resident Pato O’Ward won the second half of last May’s doubleheader in his Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet. Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, a two-time series champion, won at TMS in 2019. In addition, Ganassi’s Alex Palou of Spain returns to defend his 2021 series championship.

“I’m looking forward to seeing Jimmie get back on the track after having a year under his belt,” team-owner Ganassi said. ”With all the experience he has on ovals from his NASCAR career and adding it to his 2021 experience in an Indy car, we think the INDYCAR ovals will play right into his strength.”

The 2022 XPEL 375 will be the 35th INDYCAR race at TMS, dating to Arie Luyendyk’s victory in the inaugural night race on June 7, 1997 under Indy Racing League sanction.

“Chip Ganassi Racing and Jimmie Johnson are ideal partners and we’re excited to watch Jimmie race the full season in 2022,” said Ryan Keeton, Carvana’s chief brand officer. “Our entire Carvana crew is inspired by Jimmie’s commitment as he’s forged this new path in his racing career.”

TMS has moved from its May 2021 doubleheader slot to a single event on Sunday, March 20, during the facility’s 26th season. The switch marks the first time “The Great American Speedway” will play host to the series in March rather than its traditional early-to-mid-June night race.

“The NTT IndyCar Series has a rich tradition of spectacular wheel-to-wheel competition at Texas Motor Speedway, so we’re thrilled to have the greatest names in American open-wheel racing back in 2022 for the XPEL 375,” said Rob Ramage, TMS’ senior vice president/GM. “The move from the Texas heat in June to the first day of spring should make a welcome respite for race fans and even more exciting racing.”

The March weekend will open with Progressive American Flat Track motorcycle racing on the Texas Motor Speedway Dirt Track on Saturday, March 19. A full schedule will take place in the Mission SuperTwins, AFT Production Twins and AFT Singles classes.

Tickets for the XPEL 375 _ starting at $30 for adults and $10 for children _ are now on sale at  https://www.texasmotorspeedway.com/events/xpel-375/.

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Veteran INDYCAR driver James Hinchcliffe has joined NBC Sports as fulltime analyst for its coverage of the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series. Hinchcliffe will partner with play-by-play voice Leigh Diffey and analyst Townsend Bell during NBC Sports’ coverage of the 17-race schedule. 

James Hinchcliffe is headed to the broadcast booth. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Martha Fairris)

In addition, “Hinch” will serve as an analyst for select IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Series races. Hinchcliffe will make his 2022 INDYCAR on-air debut during the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Fla., street race on Sunday, Feb. 27, on NBC.

“I couldn’t be more excited to join the NBC Sports team this year,” said Hinchcliffe, 35, who drove the No. 29 Honda for Andretti Autosport in 2021. “I got a taste of calling INDYCAR back in 2020 and that really solidified my desire to get into this side of the sport. It’s always been a passion of mine to educate people about INDYCAR, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to help tell those stories from the booth alongside a couple of pros in Leigh and Townsend.”

Hinchcliffe recently announced he was stepping away from fulltime racing following a decade in INDYCAR, featuring six race wins and the 2011 NTT IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year award. A native of Canada, Hinchcliffe also received the INDYCAR Fan Favorite Award in 2012 and 2018.

Hinchcliffe replaces former open-wheel star Paul Tracy, whose racing plans for the 2022 season dictated he exit his broadcast duties after an eight-year run. As originally reported by RACER, Tracy and NBC were unable to create a broadcast calendar that would allow the soon-to-be 53-year-old to continue competing in the SRX series and also pursue an LMP3 drive in IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

“James Hinchcliffe is one of the most dynamic personalities in motorsports and we’re excited to bring ‘The Mayor of Hinchtown’ straight from the car and into the booth for NBC Sports,” said Sam Flood, executive producer and president, NBC Sports and NBCSN. “James’ engaging personality, combined with his unique perspective of what these drivers are experiencing in real time, will be a great addition to our motorsports coverage.”

NBC Sports’ exclusive coverage of the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series schedule will feature a record 14 race on the NBC broadcast network, including the 106th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 29. The season’s first six races will air on NBC; all races, qualifying and practices will stream live on Peacock.

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Helio Castroneves has vowed to collect a souvenir Race Day ticket to the Indianapolis 500 _ just like the fans who will cheer him on in the 106th running on Sunday, May 29, at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Helio Castroneves ticketed by IndyCAR. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

Amazingly, the four-time/reigning winner of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” said he never has received _ or at least kept _ a souvenir ticket bearing his likeness in the year following his victories in 2001, 2002 and 2009. But as the race’s fourth four-time winner, he realized it’s time to showcase one of the most coveted keepsakes in sports.

“I know how much it means to the fans to have that small piece of history for that year,” said Castroneves, who said he has signed many of those race tickets over the years. “That’s part of why Indianapolis is so incredible because everyone has a chance to be part of it.”

The honor of the winning driver being featured on the next year’s 500 ticket dates to Mauri Rose’s appearance in 1948.

Earlier this month Castroneves was presented with tickets from each of the previous three years he was featured as part of the official 2022 ticket unveiling at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The tickets were provided by the IMS Ticket Office and longtime 500 fan Matt Converset of Decatur, Ind.

The 2022 ticket unveil was held in front of a live audience at the Performance Racing Industry (PRI) Trade Show. Castroneves, who won this year’s race driving the pink-and-black No. 06 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda fielded by Meyer Shank Racing, got his first look at the design of IMS Art Director Mandy Walsh.

“Thank you to everyone,” Castroneves said. “This is so special, so much a part of history.”

The artistic shot taken by IMS Photo Operations Manager Chris Owens shows Castroneves with the symbols of his record-tying 500 victory _ four fingers raised, the traditional winner’s wreath, the Borg-Warner Trophy and a portion of his winning car in the background. In his previous images, Castroneves is raising the ceremonial bottle of milk in Victory Lane.

“Every time you (see the ticket), it brings you memories that we did something remarkable,” said Castroneves, who joined an exclusive club featuring A.J. Foyt Jr., Al Unser and Rick Mears.

Tickets featuring the historic image will be mailed soon to fans in all 50 states and countries worldwide as IMS prepares to welcome a full capacity of fans “Back Home Again” next May. 

Castroneves, 46, is yet to see his likeness on the iconic Borg-Warner Trophy, which he considers a chance to evaluate “how I am looking now,” he joked.

Castroneves added his favorite Indy tradition is receiving the winner’s ring, made by Jostens. “That’s something that I look at every day,” the native Brazilian said. “It makes me wake up with a smile on my face and (reminding me I’m going) back again to fight for it.

“As soon as they put that ring on my finger, I say it’s never coming off. In fact, this year I told (team co-owner) Mike Shank, ‘Mike, the only way you’re getting this ring is if you cut off my finger, and I don’t think you want a driver with four fingers driving next year.’ “It fits perfectly. No adjustments.”

Tickets for the 106th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge and all Month of May activities are on sale at IMS.com, by calling the IMS Ticket Office at 317-492-6700 or by visiting the Ticket Office.

(Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1997) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was inaugural recipient of the Texas Motor Speedway Excellence in Journalism Award (2009). His list of freelance clients has included Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, NASCAR Wire Service and Ford Racing).

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, December 18 2021
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