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FORT WORTH, Texas. — The first oval race of the year presents every IndyCar driver with a unique challenge right out of the gate, especially given the fact that the schedule is tilted more towards road and street courses than ovals.

Jimmie Johnson, a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, is returning to familiar territory this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway as the series prepares for the XPEL 375. Despite never having raced on an oval in an Indy car, Johnson said he’s more confident now than he has been before all the road course races he’s run so far.

“Ovals are a little easier to find in some respects, they come quicker, for me,” he said. “Just because the lap is shorter and it’s easier to pick up a rhythm of a track with four corners as opposed to 17 or something like that.”

Johnson tested at Texas late last year and again in the weeks leading up to this weekend’s race. He says the thing that gives him optimism for racing on ovals is that you can be just as aggressive in an IndyCar as you can in a Cup car.

Still, he says that in order to have the optimum performance he is looking for, he needs to be at the front of the field early. That means a good qualifying run on Saturday.

“In the equipment, I’ll be in, I should be able to have a career-best starting position and look forward from then. Into the top ten, top five if possible,” Johnson added.

Even with that goal in mind, Johnson says it’s “not realistic” to think he can contend for a win. Though he has higher expectations for himself he said he also has to keep himself in check.

One thing to take into account on Sunday is the traction compound on the racing surface at Texas. It is a substance sprayed on the upper lanes of the track to allow for more traction for the NASCAR Cup Series. It does the opposite for Indy cars, unfortunately.

Johnson’s best career finish in an IndyCar race is 17th twice at Laguna Seca and Long Beach last season.

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