• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Thursday, January 13, 2011

BREAKING NEWS: NO JIMMIE JOHNSON IN INDY 500

Welcome and thank you for returning for my sixth calendar year of blogging. My first "official" post for 2011 will be next Monday -- a big-picture look at the year ahead -- but here is some breaking news that can't wait:


Forget all that happy talk about Jimmie Johnson driving in May's 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500. He says "no." I sat with the five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion for over 20 minutes late Wednesday afternoon in a Casino Arizona club lounge -- he was in Scottsdale to help bang-the-drums for Phoenix International Raceway's new Feb. 27 Subway Fresh Fit 500 date.


The link to my Arizona Republic story is at the bottom here, but I didn't have room for this nugget. During our conversation, Johnson said he originally thought Indy Cars would be his career path. I took advantage of him opening that door to ask if he'll drive in the I500. All of Johnson's quotes that follow are word-for-word, as transcribed by me from my recorder.


"I don’t have anything working, so I’d say no for this year."


I then asked Johnson if Chevrolet's return to the series could present an opportunity in 2011.


"It could. It’s been a hurdle in the past. I just don’t know if it’s the smartest . . . my wife and I have discussed it for a long time. She knows how bad I want to do it. We, together, thought if I could run that race before we had kids, it makes sense. Those days are long gone.


"If a legitimate opportunity comes along, the first place I start is with my wife, make sure she’s comfortable with it. From there, I still have quite a few hurdles: Mr. (Rick) Hendrick, Chad (Knaus), Lowe’s. I enjoy making it public knowledge that I am interested, so, if one day I do go to Rick or Lowe’s, they’ve heard of it before.


"I just don’t know. I have (talked to Hendrick about it) in years past when Chevy wasn’t a part of it. He’d say, ‘Look, contracts exist, you can’t drive a Honda-powered vehicle.’ So it’s eliminated the opportunity. Since GM has announced it’s coming back, I have not spoken with him about it."

What does he think about Indy rulemakers going to a NASCAR-like double-file restart rule? Unlike NASCAR, however, supposedly lapped cars won't be positioned behind the front-runners.


"I think we’ve proven it in our sport, lapped cars should . . . you need to let the guys racing for the win and those positions have their space. I’ve never been in an Indy Car. I’m not comfortable watching them side-by-side on TV (laughter). I can only imagine what it would be inside the car."




[ more next Monday . . . ]