INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) – For a long time motor racers stuck to their lanes, but increasingly drivers like Jimmie Johnson are heading in new directions in search of racing thrills.
A seven-time NASCAR Cup champion, Johnson put down a well-beaten path to the stock car series winner’s circle, but on Sunday he will take on the Brickyard’s notorious oval for the first time in a bid to join AJ Foyt and Mario Andretti as the only drivers to win both the Indy and Daytona 500s.
The pull of new adventures can bring purpose to accomplished drivers like the 46-year-old Johnson who is not viewing the Indy 500 as a one-off but a launch pad to a second career.
“I’m loving this experience, loving IndyCar,” said Johnson, who qualified 12th for Sunday’s 106th Indy 500. “I would stick around as long as I could.
“I don’t know what that number would be, I hope this isn’t my one and only Indianapolis 500 start, I hope this isn’t my one and only full-time season in the IndyCar Series either.
“I don’t know what that looks like but I am going to do everything in my power to be doing this for years to come.”
The jump from Formula One to IndyCar is not a great leap. Many drivers from Mario Andretti to Jacques Villeneuve and Romain Grosjean have made the move.
There are other avenues open to more and more drivers, with many dabbling in sportscars, some attracted to rallying and a few intrigued by NASCAR.
Former Formula One world champion Kimi Raikkonen is just the latest, announcing on Thursday he will make his return to racing in August in the NASCAR Cup Series at Watkins Glen.
For a few drivers a change is an opportunity to make history.
Formula One double-world champion Fernando Alonso famously left the glamour circuit in pursuit of motor racing’s triple crown of victories at the Monaco Grand Prix, Le Mans 24 Hours and the Indianapolis 500.
The Spaniard won Monaco (twice) and Le Mans but failed twice at his bid for the Indy 500 before returning to Formula One with French outfit Alpine
Aside from aiming to become just the third driver to win the Daytona and Indy 500s, Johnson is also flirting with the idea of another rare motor racing double – running both the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR’s Coca Cola 600 which are held the same day.
“It’s always been an interest of mine,” admitted Johnson. “I don’t have anything in motion but just admired it from afar over the years watching John Andretti do it once, and Kurt (Busch) do it once and Tony Stewart do it.”
“It’s always been on my radar, Not sure if it can ever happen but certainly would be something I am open to it.”
(Reporting by Steve Keating; editing by Richard Pullin)