By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer
NEW YORK — Who is Marcus Ericsson?
That is a question many have asked over the past two days, since Ericsson won the 2022 Indianapolis 500. Avid race fans know the 31-year-old Swede from his racing exploits the past nine years, as he drove for struggling Formula 1 teams for five years before coming to the United States to drive IndyCar in 2019.
He won two races last year at Chip Ganassi Racing but entered the Indianapolis 500 likely ranked fifth among the Ganassi drivers most fans would’ve picked to be drinking the milk in victory lane, even though he was starting fifth on the grid.
That’s not a knock. Scott Dixon was on the pole, Alex Palou is the defending series champion, and Tony Kanaan and Jimmie Johnson are fan favorites with extensive racing résumés.
Ericsson, whose racing career has been funded by Swedish businessmen ever since he was winning races as a teenager in his home country, tends not to do anything flashy — unless you count how he got airborne at Nashville last year and rallied to win the race.
Ericsson sat down with FOX Sports while in New York — his day started with an appearance at the Empire State Building and was set to end with a trip to Yankee Stadium — to discuss his win and answer the question: Who is Marcus Ericsson?
Q: Without the biographical racing information, who is Marcus Ericsson?
A: Just a normal kid from Sweden to start with.
Q: What does “a normal kid from Sweden” mean?
A: From a normal family, a normal background. My dad is a house painter. My mom is an accountant. I am very thankful that my dad had the interest to help me start with go-karts. We were driving around Sweden, always loading up the go-kart in his painting van. He would take out his painting stuff, put in the go-kart and go racing.
I come from a humble background and [am] living the American dream now. Me, as a person, I’m a hard worker and a thinker. I try to think ahead and work hard and always think how to become better. I don’t want anybody to say I didn’t work hard enough. I always want to be the guy who works the hardest to be the best I can be.
Also, I’m a team player. It was a true team effort. It wasn’t that I won the 500. We won the 500. That’s something I put a lot of pride in.
Q: Would you have been a painter if your racing dream hadn’t panned out?
A: My dad tells me I’m a terrible painter. I remember as a kid, I went a few times in the summer and worked with him, and he said I wasn’t very good at it. … I have two brothers, and one of my brothers works with my dad. Maybe I would have been one of those. Maybe not.
Q: Have you talked to Jimmie Johnson, who not only crashed but did so while you had a comfortable lead, so instead of cruising to the win, once the race resumed, you had to fend off the field for the final two laps?
A: It was funny. I spoke to Jimmie afterward. And he wasn’t aware that I was about to win the race when he crashed. He got to the care center, [and] he saw on the time screens that I was leading. And he asked someone, “So Marcus is leading the race?” And they were like, “Yeah, he is leading.” And he was like, “Was it tight? Was it really close?” And they’re like, “No, it was a three-second gap. He was controlling it.”
And he said when he heard that, he just got a panic attack almost, and he didn’t know what to do because he was freaking out. And I told Jimmie, “If I didn’t win that race, I would never speak to you ever again.”
Q: That might’ve made you the only person who won’t speak to Jimmie. And he’s probably nice enough to understand why you would do that.
A: Just joking. No one crashes on purpose. Jimmie is the nicest guy ever and an incredible teammate. I’m really, really happy to not only call him a teammate but also a friend. It can happen to anyone. It was just frustrating [that] it happened at that point.
Q: NASCAR owner Justin Marks has started a third NASCAR Cup Series car (dubbed “Project 91”) for select races for a driver who can push his brand internationally. Now that you have won the Indy 500, does that make you a candidate?
A: I would love to do it. That would be amazing to get the chance to try that and do a race. That would be super cool. Ever since I came to America, I tried to embrace America racing. I love IndyCar. NASCAR is huge here. That would be super cool and definitely would be something I’d be interested in. I’d have to clear it with Chip first.
Q: Do you have any plans to go back to Sweden to celebrate