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Grosjean, Johnson Thrive on Edge as Best Rookie Qualifiers

Grosjean, Johnson Thrive on Edge as Best Rookie Qualifiers

Two Indianapolis 500 rookies. Two decorated race car drivers. Two memorable runs in PPG Presents Armed Forces Qualifying.

During the Top 12 qualifier at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 106th running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge (Sunday, May 29 at 11 a.m. ET, live on NBC, Telemundo Deports on Universo) who placed the first four rows of the grid, including the NTT P1 Award for pole, Romain Grosjean and Jimmie Johnson showed why their “rookie” status is just a label.

Formula 1 veteran Grosjean earned the accolade as the best starting rookie in the field this year, with a four-lap average speed of 231.999 mph in the No. 28 DHL Honda. It was good enough to start ninth.

He is also the fastest “500” rookie in the field and the best starting rookie in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” since Rinus VeeKay started fourth in his first race in 2020.

It was the fastest Grosjean had ever driven in his professional driving career. He said his team may have been adjusted too far to try to compensate for the changing track conditions. After getting out of his red-and-yellow Andretti Autosport Honda in the pit lane, he admitted that his run evoked a feeling that many drivers fail to express.

“That was scary,” Grosjean said. “The track conditions have changed a lot since the morning. We tried everything to go fast and get some speed in the car, but it was absolutely nerve-wracking. It wasn’t easy. I used all the tools in the car. I’m glad it’s over, but I’m proud of what we’ve done so far.”

Grosjean has had several moments on the brink over the past week as he practiced for the Indianapolis 500. Many times in practice he came close to hitting the wall, and he also had a perilous moment in Turn 1 in his qualifying run when he narrowly avoided to touch the wall. Still, Grosjean leads the five-car Andretti Autosport organization in the grid.

He wasn’t alone on the brink of glory in Indy 500 qualifying – a four-lap, 10-mile run that is one of the most daunting challenges in motorsport. Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Johnson had a highlight that will be played for years to come when he perhaps made contact with the wall of Turn 2 on round 1 of his four-lap run.

On a flying lap en route to Turn 1 of the 2.5 mile IMS oval, Johnson bumped. He left the corner and slid toward the wall on the southern short chute that separates Turn 1-2. With a last minute push of the handlebars to the left, Johnson may have still scrubbed the wall a bit, but miraculously avoided his blue-and-yellow Honda crashing.

Next weekend he will start twelfth and finish in last place of the top 12 drivers who advanced from Saturday’s Indy 500 qualifying session, which closed positions 13-33 in the field. He achieved a four-lap average speed of 231.264 in the number 48 Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

“(It was) inexperience, I guess, in the end,” Johnson said. “The sunlight and track temperature went up under these conditions. I was just trying to find the right balance in the race car. These guys are so good at what they do. In these more difficult conditions I just need a little more experience.”

Johnson said that when he started his four-lap run and went into the corner, he was concentrating on adjusting the tools in his car. That change in focus forced him to miss his target a bit, which can be detrimental in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.

But the Indy 500 rookie was certain of one thing before his bulge: he didn’t lift in Turn 1.

“We certainly tried,” he said. “That’s the most effort in the car setup and trim settings we’ve had. I was determined to flatten Turn 1 and it was so light on the track. I was so wide trying to keep it off the fence at the time. †

Johnson’s four Chip Ganassi Racing teammates all advanced to the Firestone Fast Six to compete for the Indy 500 pole, with teammate Scott Dixon taking the NTT P1 Award in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda won. Alex Palou takes second in the #10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

The NTT INDYCAR SERIES action at the Racing Capital of the World continues tomorrow with a two-hour practice session from 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM (ET). The session, which will be broadcast live on Peacock Premium, is the first chance to see how the Field of 33 will race next Sunday.

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