Friday notebook: Start time moved for MAVTV 500 and more

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A few news and notes will follow below from the first day of on-track activity here at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. – site of the MAVTV 500 IZOD IndyCar Series season finale (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, NBC Sports Live Extra).

  • Start time officially moved to 6:10 p.m. Purely for safety reasons, the start time of tomorrow’s race has been moved back 20 minutes from 5:50 to 6:10 p.m. PT and local time (9:10 p.m. ET). TV coverage will still start on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET. The reason for the change is that the glare from the sunset entering Turns 3 and 4 is directly in the drivers’ eyes. Helio Castroneves addressed this concern in a recent teleconference.
  • Miles, Zucker hold presser. Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles, head of INDYCAR’s parent company, and Auto Club Speedway president Gillian Zucker held a press conference earlier today to go over the just-announced 2014 IndyCar schedule and also ACS’ role in it. Likely, an even later start than the 6:10 p.m. time this year will be necessary for next year’s race. A handful of quotes from these two will follow in a further post on Saturday.
  • Vautier named ROTY. Tristan Vautier was officially awarded the SUNOCO Rookie-of-the-Year honors Friday afternoon before the final practice of the day at ACS. But, as the Frenchman joked during the press conference, “Not my biggest (award),” since he had no full-time rivals this year. The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver said the biggest change to adjust to in the jump from Indy Lights was race length, and he said if all goes to plan he’ll be back with the team in 2014.
  • Fuzzy’s has $250,000 on the line. If we didn’t touch on it earlier this week, we’ll mention it now. Fuzzy’s Vodka has $250,000 on offer if either Tony Kanaan or Scott Dixon wins Saturday night; that will make it two out of three for them in the Fuzzy’s Triple Crown. A $1 million bonus was available had Kanaan – or anyone else who won the Indianapolis 500 – swept all three races at Indy, Pocono and Fontana.
  • Veach takes Indy Lights pole. Zach Veach secured his first career Firestone Indy Lights pole in qualifying for tomorrow’s Lucky’s Kids Club 100. Teammate Carlos Munoz was second, with title contenders Gabby Chaves third and Sage Karam seventh. Karam, though, will start from the rear of the nine-car field after an engine change.
  • Hello, goodbye. We’ll touch on this more tomorrow as well, but the season finale means some hellos and more goodbyes. It is definitely the last race for Kanaan (KV Racing Technology-SH, pictured) and Sebastien Bourdais (Dragon Racing) at their respective teams. It is the possible last race for more than a handful of others at theirs. Meanwhile back in the saddle this weekend after missing Houston are: AJ Allmendinger, Carlos Munoz, Alex Tagliani, Pippa Mann and JR Hildebrand.

Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023; leaves open possibility of returning at Ganassi

Jimmie Johnson race 2023
Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images
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Though he remains uncertain of his plans for next year, Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023, scaling back his schedule after running a full 17-race NTT IndyCar Series season.

“This was a difficult choice for me, but in my heart, I know it’s the right one,” Johnson said in a statement Monday morning. “I’m not exactly sure what the next chapter holds, but if an opportunity comes along that makes sense, I will consider it. I still have a bucket list of racing events I would like to take part in. Competing at this level in IndyCar has been such a great experience.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better team to race for than Chip Ganassi and Chip Ganassi Racing. Everyone worked extremely hard for the last two seasons, pushing to get the best performances out of me every single week. The support from my crew and teammates Dario (Franchitti), Scott (Dixon), Tony (Kanaan), Marcus (Ericsson) and Alex (Palou) went above and beyond anything I could have ever asked for.”

WHAT’S NEXT FOR JIMMIE JOHNSON: An analysis of his racing options for the 2023 season

Driving the No. 48 Dallara-Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing, Johnson ranked 21st in the 2022 points standings with a career-best fifth place July 24 at Iowa Speedway.

After running only road and street courses for Ganassi in 2021, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion added ovals this year. In his Indy 500 debut, he qualified 12th and finished 28th after a late crash.

“I do have a desire to go back (to IndyCar), it’s just at this point, I know what’s required to do a full schedule, and I don’t have that in me,” Johnson told AP. “I don’t have that passion that I need for myself to commit myself to a full season.”

That leaves open the concept of Johnson returning part time with Ganassi, perhaps exclusively on ovals.

“We are fully supportive of Jimmie,” team owner Chip Ganassi said in a statement. “He has been a valued member of our team and if we can find a way to continue working together, we would like to do so.”

During IndyCar’s season finale race weekend, Johnson told reporters Sept. 9 that he planned to explore his options with wife Chandra and daughters Evie and Lydia. Johnson told the Associated Press that his family is considering living abroad for a year or two, and he has toyed with the idea of running in the World Endurance Championship sports car series because of its international locales.

Johnson hasn’t ruled out IndyCar, IMSA sports cars or even a cameo in NASCAR next year. Since retiring from full-time NASCAR after the 2020 season, he has entered the endurance races of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac (including Saturday’s Petit Le Mans season finale). Johnson also wants to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and is a prime candidate for the Garage 56 entry (a joint project of NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports).

Johnson told the AP he is interested in becoming the latest driver to try “The Double” and run both the Coca-Cola 600 and Indy 500 on the same day (the most recent was Kurt Busch in 2014).

“You know me and endurance sports, and ‘The Double’ sounds awesome,” Johnson, a four-time Coke 600 winner, told AP. “I’ve always had this respect for the guys who have done ‘The Double.’ I would say it is more of a respect thing than a bucket-list item, and I’d love to put some energy into that idea and see if I can pull it off.”

It is less likely that he would return to IMSA’s endurance events because its top prototype series is being overhauled, limiting the amount of inventory available for the new LMDh cars in the rebranded GTP division.

Johnson has confirmed that he would retain primary sponsor Carvana, which has backed him in IndyCar the past two years. He revealed his decision Monday during the last episode of “Reinventing the Wheel,” Carvana Racing’s eight-part docuseries about his 2023 season.

“I’m thankful for the partnership with a company like Carvana for allowing me to take this journey in IndyCar, for seeing the value in our partnership and being open to future opportunities together,” Johnson said. “They have truly showed me that there are no finish lines in life. Along with Carvana, The American Legion, Ally, cbdMD and Frank August were there every step of the way, and I couldn’t have done it without all of them. Most importantly — and the true rockstars in all of this –my family, Chani, Evie and Lydia. They have always allowed me to chase my dreams, and we are all just really excited about what the future holds for all of us. I have enjoyed every minute of these last two years.”

Said Carvana co-founder Ryan Keeton: “During the past two years, Jimmie Johnson has been so amazing to collaborate with. Our team admires his passion, hard work and commitment to continuous improvement while also having fun, and we look forward to continuing to support him next year in this new chapter.”