FOX NASCAR Insider
AVONDALE, Ariz. — Jimmie Johnson relished the prospect to get again right into a NASCAR Cup Collection automobile even when it probably will not assist him a lot when he makes an attempt to qualify for the Daytona 500 in three weeks.
Johnson turned some laps Tuesday in a Cup automobile at Phoenix Raceway, the place the place he final drove in NASCAR in 2020. The seven-time Cup champion has spent the final two years racing in IndyCar, and the inventory automobile — a a lot heavier automobile with much less horsepower and never stop-on-a-dime braking—clearly felt completely different.
“The pace did appear completely different, little doubt about that,” Johnson mentioned. “After which simply the mass of the automobile — such a distinct feeling within the inventory automobile with all of the mass attempting to sluggish it down and attempting to vary instructions, attempting to make use of the throttle.
“With the IndyCar, it is so crisp and nimble. However that is been arduous for me to sense and really feel so it is very nice to be again in a automobile that gave me some warning, gave me some questions that it is slipping and sliding round.”
The 47-year-old Johnson introduced in November that he would return to NASCAR as a part-time driver and co-owner of what’s now Legacy Motor Membership. His take a look at of him was allowed beneath a provision the place NASCAR lets elite drivers take a look at a Subsequent Gen automobile (the NASCAR Cup automobile that debuted final yr) at a observe the place the driving force wo n’t race.
It’s designed to permit a driver to get adjusted to the automobile, and Johnson definitely was ready to make use of the take a look at to study in regards to the automobile. Johnson had spent a while within the Chevrolet racing simulator to organize.
“I am grateful that I had sim time as a result of I feel I might have busted my butt if I simply confirmed up right here and tried to drive off a reminiscence,” mentioned Johnson, who famous how completely different the tires are for the Subsequent Gen automobile. “So I discovered that to be very useful and had an excellent day.”
However the 1-mile Phoenix observe races nothing like the two.5-mile high-banked Daytona Worldwide Speedway, the place Johnson must qualify his means into the Daytona 500. There are solely 4 spots open for non-chartered automobiles, and Johnson can be certainly one of at the least 5 drivers (and presumably as many as eight) going for these 4 spots.
“I would not say it is modified something for me relative to the five hundred,” Johnson mentioned in regards to the take a look at. “However now driving the automobile and getting a way of it to work via some minor modifications that we have been allowed via the testing process, … for myself it was good simply to get again in certainly one of these automobiles and undergo the steps. “
Simply figuring out a number of the parts of how the automobile drives is one thing Johnson hopes might assist him. He mentioned he realized some about when to get on and off the throttle and the shifting mechanism of the Subsequent Gen automobile.
“Hopefully it will probably apply far and extensive,” Johnson mentioned. “I do not suppose what I realized right here at this time will carry over to Daytona. … That is an animal of its personal. However at this time was an excellent observe. And an excellent day for me within the automobile.”
Johnson has not set the remainder of his 2023 schedule past Daytona, however he mentioned Tuesday that racing within the Indianapolis 500 seems unlikely. He wish to race in Hendrick Motorsports’ “Storage 56” program which is bringing a Subsequent Gen-type automobile to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“It isn’t off however I’ll know actual quickly,” Johnson mentioned about racing within the Indy 500. “It is shut [to not happening]. There’s a number of shifting items with the Storage 56 alternative, sponsorship, timing and the place that every one sits.
“I haven’t got readability simply but, however hopefully very quickly.”
Working with Johnson at Phoenix was Todd Gordon, a former Cup champion crew chief for Joey Logano. Johnson introduced Monday that Gordon can be his crew chief for his Cup begins.
“Todd is a real skilled,” Johnson mentioned. “Clearly his stats from him communicate for themselves. I am looking for any individual to actually assist slot in, work with me and in addition assist the group — Todd’s an ideal candidate for that.”
Gordon left Crew Penske following the 2021 season, working primarily as a radio analyst on exhibits and broadcasts.
“Racers do not ever give it up — at the least the need,” Gordon mentioned, “Anyone mentioned, ‘You are getting scratched an itch.’ It is nice in that respect.
“And the opposite half is that the opposite components of my profession at this level, it retains me related. It retains me educated in regards to the storage and in regards to the automobiles and I feel it will assist me on that aspect of it.”
Johnson’s co-owner Richard Petty, who was additionally a seven-time Cup champion, mentioned Johnson can be like a rookie within the Subsequent Gen automobile as a result of it’s so completely different.
So did Johnson really feel like a rookie Tuesday?
“I hope not,” Johnson mentioned. “In some respects, I did.”
Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports activities. He has spent many years protecting motorsports, together with the previous 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting Information, NASCAR Scene journal and The (Daytona Seashore) Information-Journal. Comply with him on Twitter @bobpockrassand join the FOX Sports activities NASCAR E-newsletter with Bob Pockrass.
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