Jimmie Johnson got ahead of his “Fourth of July” celebration with the best road race of his career in Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 in Mid-Ohio, presented by the all-new 2023 Honda Civic Type R.
The American Legion driver achieved NTT INDYCAR SERIES career highs for a street and road course when he started 27th and finished 16th. He ran as high as 15th before being passed by Colton Herta for that position in the closing laps of the race.
Moving forward 11 positions from where he started was best for Johnson on a street and road course.
The pinnacle of his IndyCar career for each race was an improvement of 12 when he started 18th and finished sixth on the 1.54-mile oval at Texas Motor Speedway in the XPEL 375 on March 20.
Johnson and his number 48 Carvana/American Legion team celebrated the statistical improvement as he drove his brand new Legion-inspired Carvana livery back to the pits after the race.
“From now on you will have to wear glasses and cool suits,” Johnson’s race engineer Eric Cowdin told the driver after the race.
Johnson entered the race wearing goggles to improve his vision inside the race car and also wore a specially designed cooling suit so he could beat the heat on the 13-turn, 2,258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
“You guys are amazing, thank you,” Johnson told his team before rushing to catch a flight to Europe.
“It’s my best finish on the road and the most competitive finish I’ve ever had,” Johnson said. “I feel our approach to the Sunday warm-up this morning gave me the balance I was looking for and not worried about what my teammates were running and that served me well.
“It’s the most competitive I’ve been in, and I’m looking forward to building on that.”
Johnson’s race goal is to finally get into the top-15 and set another goal from there. He came close in Mid-Ohio on Sunday.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Johnson said. “We have a good direction here and what I need to feel in the race car to have the confidence to go fast.”
As Johnson ran off to catch his flight, Cowdin explained the reason that propelled Johnson forward.
“We’ve had a lot of discussions this weekend about what we need as a team to move him forward,” Cowdin said. “There is still a lot to learn, but as a group we are starting to understand fundamentally what it takes to take him to the next level.
“We made good decisions in the pits. He executed on the track and hit his tracks. For us we have to perform on race day. We took a small step in that direction today.”
Cowdin believes the next step is to improve Johnson’s qualifying performance to get him further up the grid. That can help him finish higher in the races.
“The side grip from these cars is pretty phenomenal on a bad day, so if you qualify at Firestone Reds and rely on that level of grip, it comes online for us,” said Cowdin. “We found some things this weekend that he can trust.
“We have to take the next step and we will continue.”
Blair Julian, Johnson’s race strategist on the timing standard for Chip Ganassi Racing, called it a solid job and a good team performance.
“Keeping it clean was really key,” Julian said. “He had a good pace after the first stint and that was encouraging. The Reds weren’t our strongest, but when he got back to the Blacks his pace was good and he stayed on track. He fought hard to maintain his position on the track and the guys in the pit lane did well.
“It’s a big challenge not to have the laps that all these guys get in qualifying, but his expectations are reasonable and realistic. I think the team supports him well and the team is on the right track.”