LONG BEACH, CA – Jimmy Johnson pulled one glove over a specially designed carbon fiber splint for his fractured right hand. A piece of tape around two fingers was outside the glove to prevent him from using his pinky – the number closest to breaking – as he drove through the streets of downtown Long Beach.
But what was supposed to be a Saturday morning test to determine Johnson’s fitness the day after his injury ended with another accident, another trip to the medical center and another set of X-rays.
“I didn’t feel any pain on the track,” Johnson said outside the medical center. “I felt good. Just trying to go really fast into Turn 1 and the tires locked and widened.” “I’m more disappointed with making myself wrong and tearing up the car again, but from an injury standpoint, I feel really good.”
It’s a good idea to go Sunday in Long Beach, Johnson said, as the IndyCar station deemed it a home race. He grew up two hours away in El Cajon, so Long Beach was an annual childhood family trip, and Johnson rented a suite for 40 friends to watch him start his second IndyCar career.
It was a stormy weekend. Johnson arrived in Long Beach from an IndyCar race that finished sixth as a career best on his oval start at Texas Motor Speedway—a performance that abruptly catapulted the seven-time NASCAR Champion into the conversation of the Indianapolis 500 contender.
Johnson was among those touting his debut in the Indy 500 in Friday morning comments. Hours later, he hit a tire barrier and broke his hand. The injury was immediately apparent when Johnson’s car camera showed him shaking his right hand.
Johnson apparently never took his hands off the wheel, a common practice in open wheel racing to protect the driver from the force of the collision. NASCAR drivers do not take their hands off the steering wheel in the event of an accident.
But Johnson made it clear on Saturday that he took his hands off the wheel but did not pull them far enough to avoid injury.
“I left the road,” Johnson said. “I didn’t get them far enough off the road.” “But I let go, and then with the impact, I think my hand moved in the path of the wheel’s rotation and caught it under the wheel.”
An X-ray taken on Friday showed the break, and the Chip Ganassi Racing team has been tasked with building an IndyCar-approved splint for use in the car. The little black piece was wrapped in tape by the edge of his right hand and had to be approved by IndyCar safety pioneer Dr. Terry Trammell.
It went on for several tense hours as CGR and Johnson worked frantically to get him back in the car by Saturday morning. Four-time IndyCar champion Ganassi sports car driver Sebastien Bourdys is likely to replace Johnson if he can’t race on Sunday.
“We took all the right steps, then on the track it just fizzled out of my mind and I was just driving laps,” said Johnson, who hit the track at 6am on Saturday to acclimatise to the cast. “Dr. Tramell is amazing. He knew exactly what to build, how to build and where to put it. Turns out the guy knows what he’s doing.”
Saturday’s x-rays showed the breaker had sidetracked overnight and, aside from some repairs in his number 48 and Johnson’s forgiveness for his second crash, he was ready to get back in the car.
“I’m upset with myself. I know where I need to improve in these cars and how to attack, and that’s in the braking and brake release areas,” he said. “I had my personal best lap before, and I was in that cadence of releasing the brakes and letting the car roll faster at the top.
“And when I did, I lost my back and had to catch up and ran in the tyres. I hate making mistakes, and I’ve made two now [at Long Beach]. “