NHRA champ Capps joins fellow NAPA driver Rossi in Long Beach

Rossi and Capps. Photo: IndyCar
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It’s been a good 12 months for NAPA Auto Parts’ sponsorship in motorsports.

NAPA made a last-minute deal to become the primary partner for Alexander Rossi in last year’s 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. Rossi subsequently paid them off with the legendary, Bryan Herta-aided strategic “clutch-and-coast” gem where Rossi drove beyond his years for the victory in the No. 98 Honda.

Then at the other end of the experience spectrum, longtime NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Funny Car star Ron Capps secured one of the most popular championships in recent memory, finally breaking through in 2016 for his first title in the NAPA Dodge Charger.

And with Chase Elliott on the verge of his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race win – he’s won stages and kicked off 2017 with his second straight Daytona 500 pole in his No. 24 NAPA Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, the company is on the verge of getting back to victory lane there.

Elliott was obviously busy at Texas Motor Speedway on NASCAR duties this weekend but with a break in the NHRA schedule this weekend, Capps made his maiden voyage to the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach this weekend as a guest of Andretti Autosport and Rossi.

The two of them had met at the NAPA Owner’s meeting in Orlando just before the Verizon IndyCar Series season opener in St. Petersburg earlier this year.

This weekend, Capps got a first-hand look into the world of IndyCar, and got a two-seater ride with Mario Andretti.

“Getting to ride with Mario in the two-seater is something I never in a million years thought I would do, and what a ride it was,” Capps said. “It was one of the most thrilling things I have ever gotten to do.”

Capps recapped the rest of the weekend, as it was a break in-between NHRA’s most recent round of the season at Las Vegas and a couple weeks before the next three-in-a-row stretch, starting at Houston on April 23 (more below, starting at the 2:52 mark, during this week’s IndyCar Paddock Pass with Anders Krohn).

“I don’t have very many ‘off weekends’ with our (NHRA Funny Car) schedule,” explained Capps, “so, to be able to not only attend the Grand Prix of Long Beach for my first time, I was able to take my family for the weekend and take in everything that had made the Grand Prix of Long Beach what it is today.

“I was pretty excited when I heard Alexander Rossi was going to represent our great sponsor, NAPA Auto Parts, but the weekend showed me why Michael (Andretti) and everyone at Andretti Autosport is successful on and off the race track. It was fun to be a part of the great NAPA Racing crew during the race as they executed race strategy that I knew was going give them a great chance to win. And, to watch Alexander drive such a consistent, fast pace all day was exciting for me. I felt devastated for the team when they had the problem near the end of the race. I can’t wait to go to our next IndyCar Series event!”

Rossi was on pace for a likely podium finish at least in his No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda, probably second or third behind eventual race winner James Hinchcliffe, before a mechanical issue took him out of the race.

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.”