No 2023 full-time racing for Jimmie Johnson

Jimmie Johnson qualified 12th for the 106th Indianapolis 500
Jimmie Johnson has raced the NTT INDYCAR SERIES for the past two years after earning seven NASCAR Cup Series championships

Jimmie Johnson is scaling back his competition involvement. After two years racing in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, his first year only on street and road courses that were, of course, foreign to him, then this year on the road, street and finally oval tracks that were, when the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion drove for Hendrick Motorsports, his stock in trade, Johnson said he’s taking a pause on full-time INDYCAR racing. 

This isn’t to say he doesn’t want to continue racing – just not at the breakneck speed and commitment required in either INDYCAR or NASCAR. There are bucket list items like the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a distinct possibility now that IMSA’s LMDh (GTP) cars are eligible to compete in that seminal race, along with the World Endurance Championship hybrid prototypes. Johnson has won the Rolex 24 at Daytona, so the complementary summer 24-hour race should be on his “to do” list. There’s also Garage 56 and the NASCAR/Hendrick Motorsports commitment for next June’s race.

It’s obvious from his statements that Johnson isn’t ready to hang up his helmet, gloves or his long-held desire to compete. In his YouTube statement that followed the rehash of his seven-position improvement in the INDYCAR season finale (from 23rd to 16th) on the undulating WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Johnson said this full-time season had ticked a lot of boxes for him. Certainly competing in the 106th Indianapolis 500, where he was a top-12 qualifier, yet crashed in the second turn with less than 10 laps to go, was a bucket list item he might want to repeat.

Jimmie Johnson qualified 12th for the 106th Indianapolis 500

But the grind of INDYCAR, if not as overwhelming as NASCAR’s Cup Series early February through November schedule, can take its toll, particularly on a body that’s been tossed around in race cars all of its life. 

Johnson, driving the No. 48 (of course) Chip Ganassi Racing Honda/Dallara, with sponsorship from Carvana, was one of the reasons many fans came to many INDYCAR SERIES races last year and this. Most came to watch him make the 180-degree transition from stock cars to open-wheel rockets, relearning every lesson he’d ever been taught about driving a race car. To say the two vehicles are different as night and day is accurate, and driving them doesn’t use the same skill sets. Some came to deride Johnson, hoping to see him fall on his face, just because.

For these past two years, Jimmie Johnson has had the best: the best cars Ganassi’s teams could put together, the best engineering talent in Eric Cowdin, who worked with Tony Kanaan from his Indy Lights days and engineered the Brazilian in 2021 when Johnson demurred on the ovals. 

Eric Cowdin was pleased with Johnson’s progress in INDYCAR

Johnson also benefited from the coaching of Scott Pruett, one of only two drivers to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona five times (the other is legend Hurley Haywood). Pruett’s raced in both NASCAR and INDYCAR and knew how to guide without being overbearing. Both he and Cowdin treated Johnson to the knowledge they could impart. Johnson did lead laps at Indianapolis – right before he found the Turn 2 outside wall – another bucket list item to check off his list.

“I’ve spent the last week-plus with my family and my thoughts, trying to understand what my 2023 calendar may look like. Through that process, I am very satisfied with the accomplishments I had in 2022, in running the full-time schedule,” Johnson said in his eighth “Reinventing the Wheel” episode on YouTube. 

Was the 2022 season finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca Johnson’s series finale, too?

Johnson’s initial goal had been INDYCAR: “I wanted to chase my original journey and run in the iNDYCAR Series. I truly felt like as this year started, I would want more years. But through this period of wanting to reflect and feeling as full as I do from my full-time season of racing and the accomplishments I had, I’m here to say I will not compete full time in 2023.”

The trip to France could be part of his program. “I love sports car racing. I love Indy car racing. I’m curious if there may be a one-off event in NASCAR that might work for me. All of that is still in play,” he said. “I really anticipate racing somewhere next year. Thankfully I still have options. I’ve had the best time at Chip Ganassi Racing and I know Chip doesn’t want to see me go anywhere. I am looking at some options there. I have amazing support from Carvana and I feel certain they want to continue that relationship,” Johnson stated.

Will Jimmie Johnson be part of the Chip Ganassi Racing LMDh effort or the NASCAR/Hendrick Motorsports-advanced Garage 56 entry for the 24 Hours of Le Mans? We’ll have to wait and see, but in the meantime, let’s thank Jimmie for his two years in INDYCAR and his willingness to, as a relatively old dog, learn new tricks.

By Anne Proffit

About Anne Proffit 1245 Articles
Anne Proffit traces her love of racing - in particular drag racing - to her childhood days in Philadelphia, where Atco Dragway, Englishtown and Maple Grove Raceway were destinations just made for her. As a diversion, she was the first editor of IMSA’s Arrow newsletter, and now writes about and photographs sports cars, Indy cars, Formula 1, MotoGP, NASCAR, Formula Drift, Red Bull Global Rallycross - in addition to her first love of NHRA drag racing. A specialty is a particular admiration for the people that build and tune drag racing engines.

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