Johnson has been surprised just how different IndyCar is from driving a NASCAR stock car.
“I would say the intensity, and the intensity is not only what the car demands, but also the layers with the engineers that come with that,” Johnson explained. “We want more data on the NASCAR vehicles, but we’re just not allowed to with the way the rules work, and I didn’t realize how that simplified things in some ways.
“From a homework standpoint, a weekly to daily check-in standpoint, pre- and post-race — pre- and post-test, I haven’t done a race yet, I’ve been really surprised how much time is required. It’s a lot more work than what I experienced on a weekly basis in the NASCAR side of things.
“Then the intensity of driving that car. It’s a monster. That’s the best way I can put it. There’s so much power, so much downforce, so much grip. It’s wild to drive.”
Johnson believes he has two of the best teachers helping him in the adjustment including six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion and 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner Scott Dixon along with four-time IndyCar Series champion and three-time Indianapolis 500 Dario Franchitti at Chip Ganassi Racing.
“I am so thankful for Dario and for Scott Dixon,” Johnson said. “Those two have – especially Dario and just how thorough he is, the notes that he took from when he was driving, his role that he has now and how involved and focused he is on still collecting notes and passing that information along has been so helpful.
“I’m really thankful to have those two in my corner and really helping me kind of get things going.”
Among the differences in the car that Johnson finds intriguing is getting the tires up to peak temperature to get the utmost speed and grip from the car. Also, the incredible amount of G forces he experiences in the Indy car are significantly more than what he expected.
“I thought that I’ve experienced some G-forces and would be able to really know where the edge of the vehicle’s grip is based on racing at Bristol or Dover where I thought there were a lot of G-forces, and I couldn’t be further from correct in those instances,” Johnson admitted. “I’m recalibrating my senses right now to understand how fast the car can stop. I’m doing a decent job of getting it stopped, but I’m actually over-slowing the car. I’m just missing the sensitivity in knowing how much the car naturally slows down on its own.
“There’s a few things that I’m still trying to sort out. Then you get into the lateral G-forces that are in the car. I’m used to slipping and sliding cars around all the time and thought that I would be able to handle one of these pretty easily or it might be easier with all the downforce.
“When we get in these high downforce, high lateral-G corners, I’m way shy of the potential of the car, and I thought that my brave nature and willingness to commit would be easy to get to the limit, and I have not. So those are two big eye openers for me.”
Johnson is arguably one of the greatest, if not the greatest, NASCAR driver of all-time. He won 83 races and a record-tying seven championships in an era that was stacked with talent. But in an Indy car, he believes he is only at 60 percent of the performance he needs to be competitive.
“I can say that the last 10 or 15 percent is going to be the hardest,” he said. “I’ve made some great strides. I’m going in the right direction. I’m within a second of my treatments now, which has really been my goal out of the box was to try to be within a second of them.
“But that last little bit, that’s what the elite guys are so good at and chase their whole career. I don’t know if I’ll get to 100 percent with the number of years that I have to give this a try, but there’s still so many things I haven’t even experienced yet. I’ve never been on a red tire. I’ve just recently had a chance to drive a street circuit tire and understand how much more grip it has versus a traditional road course tire.
“When you look at the street course tracks, I won’t even be able to drive on one until the practice, the opening practice session that we have prior to qualifying.
“I feel like my best chance, though, with all that being said, is later in the year when we get to Laguna Seca. I’ve been able to test there twice. I will have a large part of a season under my belt, and I think that’s probably, looking forward, a track that I should be in there racing with the guys.
“Or I hope to be.”
Just stay away from the fish.