It’s been 21 years since Jimmie Johnson has competed in a race at the 1.25-mile World Wide Technology Raceway oval in what was then known as the NASCAR Busch Series, now the Xfinity Series.
Johnson was an unheralded Busch Series driver and drove the Excedrin PM Chevrolet to a 14th place finish for team owner Stanley Herzog on July 21, 2001.
Seven NASCAR Cup Series championships and 83 Cup Series victories later, Johnson is one of racing all-time greats. He returns to World Wide Technology Raceway as an NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver in the No. 48 Carvana/American Legion Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing.
Johnson did not compete on the ovals in 2021, but in 2022 is driving the full season. His performance on the ovals has been so impressive, World Wide Technology Raceway Executive Vice President and General Manager Chris Blair believes the racing legend can win Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500.
“When he ran well at Texas earlier this year and finished sixth, I said it was great to see Jimmie is a contender,” Blair said. “I’m happy for that. It’s good for the sport, for INDYCAR, to see that name rising up. I was optimistic after Texas. But after seeing what happened to him in Iowa, then I got really excited.”
Johnson put on quite a show in INDYCAR’s previous oval contests, the Hy-Vee INDYCAR Weekend at Iowa Speedway. He started 15th, raced his way to the front and led 30 laps in the July 23 Hy-VeeDeals.com 250 and came back the following day to score his best-ever IndyCar finish of fifth in the July 24 Hy-Vee Salute to Farmers 300.
Blair was so excited with that effort; he called his staff together the following morning to change directions on his track’s marketing campaign for Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500.
“We started changing a lot of our advertising to the fact you could see history in the making here because Jimmie has a legitimate chance to win,” Blair said. “What better place to do it than this race track, right here on an oval in front of a Midwest crowd that loves the guy?
“There are a lot of great opportunities there and it could be a storybook ending for this season to see him pull it off.
“There are a lot of us pulling for it. We have to remain neutral, but man, I know what the media impressions would look like if Jimmie got a win here. That would be fantastic.”
The interest in this year’s race is so high, Blair said all of the hospitality and party suites have been sold out. WWTR has added to its Turn 4 Club to allow more fans the opportunity to enjoy a premium experience with limited tickets for that area.
Saturday’s race starts at 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time, 5:30 p.m. local, with the USA Network telecast beginning at 6 p.m. ET.
“For a lot of the fans, even in Indianapolis, the race should be over by 7:45 local time and that is still plenty of time to hop in the car and be home in your own bed relatively easy,” Blair said. “It’s a great day for a road trip and we’ve got your tickets.
“It’s finally here, so let’s have some fun this week.”