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Johnson Adds A Cup of Excitement To The Indy 500

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 28 2022

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson will compete for the pole at the Indy 500 on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

There is no shortage of big stories heading into Sunday’s 106th running of the Indianapolis 500, but perhaps the biggest of those is a NASCAR Cup story.

And a bit of. a stunner that story is, too.

Jimmie Johnson had not even had time to cool down after muscling through 248 laps at the high-banked, high-speed 1.5-mile oval at Texas Motor Speedway in late March when he was asked a question that would have been laughable following his debut season of 2021 in the IndyCar Series.

Could he actually win the Indianapolis 500 in May?

His answer would have been equally laughable for those who watched him stumble his way through the partial IndyCar schedule in 2021.

“Why not?”, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion answered.

Few laughed that day in Fort Worth as Johnson had finished a solid sixth in his oval-circuit debut in an IndyCar.

Even fewer are laughing this week as the racing world heads into Sunday’s “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” at the iconic 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The 46-year-old Indy rookie has suffered a few scary missteps in practice at MS but has been terrific when it’s counted.

Last Saturday, he advanced to Sunday’s Fast 12 in qualifying when he posted an average speed of 232.398 mph in his Honda-powered Chip Ganassi Racing car over his four qualifying laps.

In the Fast 12, Johnson lost a couple miles per hour (his average as 231.264) but there he will be in Row 4 when the 33-car field heads out of Turn 4 to take the green flag three-abreast at The Speedway.

Johnson’s optimism about the 500 is, yes, based on the speed he has shown this month. But it is also based on something that all the drivers know about this event – surprises are not surprising in the Memorial Day-weekend classic.

Top stars have won it, not stars have won it. And rookies, which Johnson will be, have won it three times in this century already (Juan Pablo Montoya in 2000, Helio Castroneves in 2001, Alexander Rossi in 2016).

Starting with Johnson, this weekend’s race is loaded with interesting storylines. For example:

– Scott Dixon of the Ganassi team, who has won six IndyCar championships, will be starting on the pole in search of just a second engraving of his likeness on the Borg Warner Trophy that honors the winner. The race has been won from the pole 21 times – the last time was in 2019 when Simon Pagenaud did it in a Penske Chevrolet.

– Castroneves, last year’s winner, will be attempting to become the first five-time winner of the 500. He is currently tied with legends AJ Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser with four. But to get No. 4, Castroneves will have to do something that only three others have done – start 27th or worse on the grid. He will start 27th. The native Brazilian is looking to become the fist driver to win back to back twice – he did it in 2001, 2002.

Montoya and Takuma Sato will be looking for their third 500 victories.

Tony Kanaan, 47, will be looking to tie Al Unser and Bobby Unser for the title of oldest driver to win a 500.

Speed will apparently in abundance. The 230 mph barrier has taken a beating in practice and qualifying. Dixon’s average speed on pole day was 234.046 – that broke the all-time pole record speed of 233.718 mph set in 1996 by Scott Brayton. Dutchman Arie Luyendyk set the all-time four-lap qualifying average speed record of 236.986 mph in 1996, but his run came on the second day of qualifications and wasn’t eligible for the pole.

And then there is Johnson. Were he to win Sunday, he would join AJ Foyt and Mario Andretti as the only drivers to win both the Indy 500 and the Daytona 500.

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The starting grid for Sunday’s 106th Indianapolis 500

Row 1- Scott Dixon, Alex Palou, Rinus VeeKay
Row 2- Ed Carpenter, Marcus Ericsson, Tony Kanaan
Row 3- Pato O’Ward, Felix Rosenqvist, Romain Grosjean
Row 4- Takuma Sato, Will Power, Jimmie Johnson
Row 5- David Malukas, Josef Newgarden, Santino Ferruci
Row 6- Simon Pagenaud, J.R. Hildebrand, Conor Daly
Row 7- Callum Ilott, Alexander Rossi, Graham Rahal
Row 8- Sage Karam, Marco Andretti, Devlin DeFrancesco
Row 9- Colton Herta, Scott McLaughlin, Helio Castroneves
Row 10- Kyle Kirkwood, Dalton Kellett, Juan Pablo Montoya
Row 11- Christian Lundgaard, Jack Harvey, Stefan Wilson

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 28 2022
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