In the Hot Seat with Jimmie Johnson

Certainly, Jimmie Johnson enjoys the challenges in his rookie INDYCAR season. (Photo: Chip Ganassi Racing)

Certainly, Jimmie Johnson enjoys the challenges in his rookie INDYCAR season. (Photo: Chip Ganassi Racing)

All things considered, Jimmie Johnson finds himself taking on a great unknown after 20 seasons in the NASCAR Cup Series. Altogether, Johnson, a seven-time Cup champion, understands the learning curve ahead of him in his rookie NTT INDYCAR Series season.

Without delay, Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 Carvana Honda team battle tenaciously on any given race weekend. Of course, Johnson competes against some of the most competitive racers in open wheel and quite possibly all of motorsports.

Meanwhile, Johnson faces some formidable challengers for rookie honors in Romain Grosjean and Scott McLaughlin. All of a sudden, INDYCAR’s deeply talented field gains three exciting racers throughout the year.

Additionally, Johnson competes in IMSA with their Michelin Endurance Cup challenge. By all means, Johnson seemingly followed after a video game in his name from 2011.

Indeed, Jimmie Johnson enjoys driving anything with wheels. In due time, Johnson will find his comfort zone in the INDYCAR ranks as he did in NASCAR. At the present time, the El Cajon, Calif. native prepares for his next start at Detroit.

Recently, I caught up with Johnson as he sets his sights on gaining confidence and experience in INDYCAR. Moreover, Johnson shares his thoughts on his Ganassi teammates plus a special design competition. Now, let’s get “In the Hot Seat with Jimmie Johnson” here on The Podium Finish!

Rob Tiongson : You’re three races into your rookie NTT INDYCAR Series season as of now. As you acclimate with INDYCAR competition with your No. 48 Carvana Honda after your races at Barber, St. Pete, and Indianapolis, what’s some of the key areas you’re focused on as you gain more experience this year?

In general, Jimmie Johnson's latest racing chapter proves quite exciting. (Photo: INDYCAR)

In general, Jimmie Johnson’s latest racing chapter proves quite exciting. (Photo: INDYCAR)

Jimmie Johnson : I just want to log laps and finish. It’s a huge learning curve that I will go through every week until I get these tracks under my belt. I’m for sure getting more confident but have a way to go.

Tiongson : There’s been some fanfare about this year’s rookie class being one of the most prominent ones with Formula 1’s Romain Grosjean and Australian Supercar star Scott McLaughlin who are also vying for rookie honors. What’s it like to know that you’re racing against two distinct international talents in this competitive open wheel series?

Johnson : It’s really amazing how much success the three of us have had in our other respective sports. And to be called rookies at this stage in our careers is kind of funny. But we are embracing it.

Tiongson : Over the years, we’ve seen the likes of Tony Stewart, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Robby Gordon as some of the prominent INDYCAR and open wheel stars who jumped over to NASCAR. In this case, you’ve literally switched gears here. How have you prepared from stock car racing to INDYCAR action given that you’re solely racing in the road courses and street circuits?

Significantly, Johnson's No. 48 Carvana Honda proves quite different than his stock car. (Photo: Chris Owens/INDYCAR)

Significantly, Johnson’s No. 48 Carvana Honda proves quite different than his stock car. (Photo: Chris Owens/INDYCAR)

Johnson : I’ve basically had to start from scratch. The INDYCAR is a totally different beast. So besides physically preparing, which these cars require a lot of neck and grip strength, the car itself is a completely different drive. It’s been a learning curve for sure.

Tiongson : While there are less races in INDYCAR than NASCAR, how are you adjusting to the different atmosphere and pace, literally and figuratively, especially with the different locales in this series?

Johnson : I’m having so much fun. My family loves it, the venues are incredible, the atmosphere is super chill and it’s just really different from what I am used to. I walked to the St. Pete garage from my hotel on the water. It’s just so cool.

Tiongson : I understand Carvana had some unique campaigns where fans can vote on different, unique liveries of your No. 48 car. Did you get to have some input with these schemes seen at Indy and soon at Detroit?

As can be seen, Johnson's fan designed paint scheme looked sleek at Indianapolis. (Photo: Chris Jones/INDYCAR)

As can be seen, Johnson’s Brendan Droppo designed paint scheme looked sleek at Indianapolis. (Photo: Chris Jones/INDYCAR)

Johnson : I have had input in all of them. I loved this campaign and that the fans had a say in what my car looks like. The names are really fun and there were three other options at carvana.com/vote.

Tiongson : You’ve got a bevy of resources around you like six-time INDYCAR champion Scott Dixon, Formula 1’s Marcus Ericsson, open wheel star Tony Kanaan and Alex Palou. How have you leaned on them for advice and input ahead of and during race weekends?

Johnson : I couldn’t have better teammates. Dixon is possibly one of the greatest drivers of all time. Tony is a legend and Alex and Marcus are so incredibly talented. I am in great hands.

Tiongson : While your focus remains on your IndyCar efforts, you’re competing in IMSA with their Michelin Endurance Cup challenge for Ally Cadillac Racing, an entry fielded by Action Express Racing. As you’re halfway into this competition with your team, how confident are you about your team’s chances of winning this particular title with races at Watkins Glen and Road Atlanta later this year?

Johnson : I really enjoy racing in IMSA. The laps help me with the INDYCAR too. I hope we can pull off the endurance championship. I’ve always wanted to be a part of a team and it’s been a great experience.

Tiongson : There’s no doubt that a lot of your fans who followed you in NASCAR have likely followed your efforts in IndyCar and IMSA. What’s your thoughts on bringing in new fans to these racing series and learning about these different cars and tracks?

Johnson : I love it. I think INDYCAR loves it. I hope we can give them a good show.

Tiongson : Jamin Davis, a linebacker who was drafted to the Washington Football Team recently, mentioned how he wanted to race in NASCAR as a kid and hoped to meet you. When you learned of Davis’ story as shared during the NFL Draft telecast, how touched were you to hear this?

Nevertheless, Johnson appreciates the words from a newly drafted NFL player. (Photo: Doug Matthews/INDYCAR)

Nevertheless, Johnson appreciates the words from a newly drafted NFL player. (Photo: Doug Matthews/INDYCAR)

Johnson : Whenever you hear an athlete of that caliber who has those stories, it always touches you. We are going to bring him to a race soon and have been in touch with the folks in his camp. Coach (Ron) Rivera and I are friends.

Tiongson : My five year old nephew Francisco, who became a big fan of yours in recent years, wanted to ask what you’d consider to be your dream car, whether in your collection or something you dream about having one day?

Johnson : The No. 48 Carvana INDYCAR is my dream car.

Tiongson : While the focus is with your efforts this year in IndyCar and IMSA, have you considered a potential, future start in the Indianapolis 500 given the safety advances with the cars in recent years?

Johnson : Yes. I would have to test to make sure, but yes.

Tiongson : You’ve had a video game where players could race literally anything. You’re likely a NASCAR Hall of Famer. And you’re racing in IndyCar and IMSA. What would your younger self, say when you raced in off road trucks and stadium truck races, think of his future self being able to do these incredible things?

Ultimately, Johnson takes in the experiences in INDYCAR with a smile. (Photo: Chris Owens/INDYCAR)

Ultimately, Johnson takes in the experiences in INDYCAR with a smile. (Photo: Chris Owens/INDYCAR)

Johnson : I’m thankful for everyone who helped me get here. And I’ve never lost sight of that. I am grateful I was raised by the best parents and they have molded me to who I am today. I’m trying to instill the same in my daughters. And I would just say don’t give up.

Editor’s Notes

Special thanks to Jimmie Johnson for taking the time for this latest “In the Hot Seat” interview series on The Podium Finish. Also, thanks to Amy Walsh Stock and Chip Ganassi Racing for making this interview possible. You can keep track of Jimmie Johnson on his Facebook and Twitter accounts, his official website and here on TPF!

Rob Tiongson

Rob Tiongson is a 30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught his eyes.

From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat.

Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Communications at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's just as happy to be a Texan.

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