NASCAR Notes: “Bono” Manion in as crew chief for Cup rookie Annett

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Sprint Cup rookie Michael Annett will be guided by one of the series’ veteran crew chiefs this year at Tommy Baldwin Racing.

Kevin “Bono” Manion, most recently the crew chief for Jamie McMurray at Chip Ganassi Racing, has joined TBR to fill the same role on Annett’s No. 7 Chevrolet. With Manion’s arrival, the team’s namesake now looks forward to working more in business and management roles.

“Our original plan was for me to be the crew chief, but when the opportunity to hire Bono came along, it’s the right fit that will allow me to step back from doing both [ownership/crew chief],” said Baldwin in a press release.

“I can concentrate more on making our business and competition relationships stronger. I can take a look from the top of the hill rather than in the trenches.”

Manion was replaced on McMurray’s No. 1 Chevrolet last fall by Keith Rodden, a former lead engineer for Hendrick Motorsports on the No. 5 Chevrolet of Kasey Kahne.

But now “Bono” has reunited with Baldwin, whom he worked with through much of the 1990s as they rose together from the New England modified scene all the way into the Cup Series.

“I’m excited to be on board with TBR and to be back with Tommy,” Manion said in his own thoughts. “Our careers have taken us on different paths throughout the years and we’ve created our own successes, but it’s great to be reunited and come full circle. Everyone on the team seems to have so much passion and I’m glad to be a part of it.”

As for Annett, he now has two former Daytona 500-winning crew chiefs to help him along as he experiences his first Cup season. Manion won the Great American Race in 2010 with McMurray, and Baldwin won it in 2002 with Ward Burton at Bill Davis Racing.

Manion also has a pair of Nationwide Series titles from 2004 and 2005 with driver Martin Truex Jr.

“[Manion] brings a wealth of knowledge, experience and winning resume with him to TBR,” Annett said. “I have a great amount of respect and friendship with Bono and can’t wait to get to Daytona and kick off the 2014 season with him.

“Bono being hired by TBR is a great testament of Tommy’s leadership ability and surrounding this company with the talent Bono brings to the team. We have some great things ahead of us and I’m excited where this organization is headed.”

This season, Matt Kenseth will continue to enjoy Nationwide Series support from Reser’s Fine Foods and video game retail chain GameStop.

Reser’s will be on Kenseth’s No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota for seven Nationwide races in 2014 beginning with the season-opening Drive4COPD 300 at Daytona on Saturday, Feb. 22. They’ll also be on board for Nationwide rounds at Phoenix, Charlotte (May), Kentucky, Indianapolis, Watkins Glen, and Kansas (October).

GameStop is in for a block of 10 races beginning with the Las Vegas event on Saturday, March 8. Also on the docket for them: Bristol (March), California, both Texas races (April/October), Darlington, Dover, Richmond (September), Charlotte (October), and the season finale at Homestead-Miami in November.

Kenseth earned two wins, seven Top-5s and 14 Top-10s in 16 Nationwide starts last year.

Team Penske also announced today that another of its Nationwide Series sponsors, Wurth, is taking on a four-race sponsorship as primary backer for Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 Ford Fusion in the Sprint Cup series.

Wurth’s first race on the No. 2 will be the March 23 Cup race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. All of the No. 2’s races this year are now accounted for sponsorship-wise, with Miller Lite as the primary for 24 races and Alliance Truck Parts as the primary for eight races.

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.”