Even without Indy 500, it’s still race week at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Stephen King/IndyCar
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The 104th Indianapolis 500 will have to wait until Aug. 23 on NBC, but this still is Race Week for Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The venerable track announced a week full of virtual and socially distanced activities that will promote Sunday’s “Back Home Again” special on NBC at 2 p.m. ET.

The replay of last year’s Indy 500 will feature winner Simon Pagenaud and runner-up Alexander Rossi describing their epic finish with host Mike Tirico.

‘BACK HOME AGAIN’: NBC special will celebrate last year’s Indy 500 thriller

The Brickyard is encouraging fans to visit IMS.com/500atHome for a schedule of #500atHome activities that include a virtual Carb Day, virtual Legends Day and a virtual Happy History Hour with esteemed IMS historian Donald Davidson.

Here’s the release Monday from Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

INDIANAPOLIS, Monday, May 18, 2020 – The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is embracing the spirit of the Month of May and the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge by celebrating #500atHome. Virtual and socially distanced activities are planned for this entire week – the traditional Race Week – for fans leading up to a special national broadcast of the “Indy 500 Special: Back Home Again” on Sunday, May 24 at 2 p.m. (ET) on NBC.

Leading up to Sunday, IMS encourages race fans to virtually celebrate their favorite Race Week traditions, including Miller Lite Carb Day, Legends Day presented by Firestone and Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge Race Day from the comfort of their home. Downloadable activities, exciting interactive opportunities, historical content and much more will help to create the ultimate #500atHome experience. Fans are encouraged to visit IMS.com/500atHome all week long to learn more.

“The Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge is a Memorial Day tradition unlike any other, and this May we are ensuring that the spirit of the Indy 500 continues,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said. “With the help from fantastic community partners and our friends at NBC and INDYCAR, #500atHome will offer race fans the best way to virtually celebrate and participate in what is usually the most exciting time of the year with fun, safe and smart activities.”

#500atHome activities will begin with a virtual community day on Wednesday, May 20, tapping into the community spirit of the Month of May. The day will feature educational activities for race fans of all ages, including Craft with the IMS Museum supported by Group1001 – a set of at-home tutorials that teach race fans about IMS history, and a sneak peek at one of our favorite Month of May community traditions – this year’s Welcome Race Fans artwork from the Arts Council of Indianapolis.

On Friday, May 22, #500atHome will embrace the spirit of Miller Lite Carb Day by offering race fans a day full of classic rock and racing-related activities that fans can embrace while gearing up in their #500Fashion. Activities include Miller Lite Carb Day throwbacks on Indianapolis radio stations Q95 WFBQ, 99.5 WZPL and 105.4 WJJK, a virtual Indy 500 Pit Stop Challenge and #SocialDistancePorching – a new way to porch party in collaboration with the Harrison Center, Visit Indy and the Town of Speedway in conjunction with the Speedway Chamber of Commerce.

#500atHome on Saturday, May 23 will combine two things fans love most – history and racing – for an exciting virtual Legends Day presented by Firestone. All day long, IMS will honor Indianapolis 500 milestones and anniversaries celebrated in 2020 through IMS.com stories, the IMS Digital Archive and a virtual tour of the IMS Museum.

On Saturday, race fans can tune-in to an exciting virtual History Happy Hour with IMS President J. Douglas Boles and IMS Historian Donald Davidson, hosted in partnership with the Indiana Historical Society. Race fans also can make an at-home float for a virtual IPL 500 Festival Parade experience. And don’t worry – race fans can still get that Race Weekend music they love so much through a #JMVTakeover on 105.7 WYXB and on 95.5 WFMS.

All the #500atHome activities lead up to the virtual Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge Race Day on Sunday, May 24. The day will begin with virtual versions of race morning traditions such as the iconic cannon blast on IMS social media. The tradition of Bike Indianapolis’ “Bike to the 500” will continue as race fans are encouraged to go on an early-morning bike ride in their neighborhood, while several NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers will kick-start their day with a bike ride around the famed 2.5-mile oval.

From there, IMS will host several virtual Race Day traditions, encourage fans to have “Brunch with the Brickyard,” where race fans can enjoy track food at home with special restaurant takeout packages offered across the city. The day culminates with the exciting NBC presentation: “Indy 500 Special: Back Home Again” (2 p.m. ET, NBC), featuring NBC Sports’ Mike Tirico, 2019 Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner Simon Pagenaud and 2016 winner Alexander Rossi.

For a full schedule of events on each day, as well as links to each day’s activities, please visit IMS.com/500atHome.

Jimmie Johnson open to racing Rolex 24 at Daytona in lower category to earn first watch

Jimmie Johnson Rolex 2023
Michael L. Levitt/LAT/USA/IMSA
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Jimmie Johnson could be making his last start in a prototype Saturday, but he still might be racing sports cars at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Le Mans in 2023.

Now that he’s done racing full time in the NTT IndyCar Series, Johnson said this week that his top three priorities for 2023 are 1) racing the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day (commonly known as “The Double”); 2) the 24 Hours of Le Mans and 3) the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Winning a Rolex 24 long has been a goal for Johnson, who has three overall runner-up finishes over nine starts in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener at Daytona International Speedway.

IMSA SEASON FINALE: Details for watching the Petit Le Mans

All of those were in the premier category, but with IMSA overhauling and rebranding the class (from DPi to GTP) next season, it seems there won’t be room for Johnson to return in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac. Johnson will be teamed with Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Rockenfeller in Saturday’s Petit Le Mans season finale, wrapping the second season of endurance races for the Action Express entry.

“I know the landscape with the new prototype class that’s come out, and frankly there’s just not enough cars or open seats available,” the seven-time Cup Series champion said during a Zoom news conference Tuesday. “So I don’t seen an opportunity in the premier division, but I am open to the other divisions on track and would love to finally earn one of those watches.”

That could mean Johnson (who bought an engraved Rolex after winning the 2006 Daytona 500 but wants to earn a signature trophy of sports car racing) entering in an LMP2 or LMP3 or perhaps a GT car for the first time at Daytona next year. He will have Carvana’s primary sponsorship in tow next year that he presumably could bring to a team.

The rest of the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion’s 2023 schedule also remains to be solidified. But it seems Johnson is nearly a lock for a 24 Hours of Le Mans debut in the lineup of the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro, which will be fielded jointly by Hendrick Motorsports and NASCAR.

“The rest of it is just early,” he said. “In the coming weeks on all fronts, conversations will continue forward. I still feel I’m on a short list for the Garage 56 program in Le Mans next year and hope to get some clarity on that in the coming weeks or months. So I wish I had more to report at this point. It’s really about not returning full time to IndyCar, and now that I’ve made that decision and letting that news be known, I really feel like I’ll get some traction here and be able to solidify my schedule for ’23.”

Depending on the interest he draws, his options should be wide open. After racing a Honda the past two years and a Chevrolet for his 20-plus years in NASCAR, Johnson isn’t under contract to any manufacturer or team next year.

Here’s what else Johnson has said about what he wants to do in ’23:

IndyCar: Though his IndyCar track record was much stronger on ovals, Johnson seems open to any part-time schedule.

“I’m running out of specific events that are bucket list races (in IndyCar), and truthfully, that’s kind of what led to my decision to not come back full time,” Johnson said. “But I still am open to tracks that are important to me, races that are important to me and doing it with people and teams that are important to me, so if something develops with Chip (Ganassi) that’s a mixed bag of road and street courses and some ovals, I’m open to it. I’m open to just ‘the Double’ or the Indy 500 alone. I really do have a clean sheet of paper and eager to see what meaningful opportunities develop and make sense.”

Though he is free to talk with other teams, Johnson said returning with Chip Ganassi Racing would be his first choice after racing with the team since 2021.

“I’ve really only spoken to Chip,” he said. “I truly feel like I’m part of the family at CGR. If I’m in IndyCar, that’s really where I want to be. I know that team. I know the inner workings of it. I do feel like we’re working hard to continue the relationship together, so that would really be my intentions if I was able to put something together and come back in IndyCar, I’d love for it to be there.”

NASCAR: Johnson mentioned again that being a past winner of The Clash and All-Star Race previously granted him long-term eligibility for those events (NASCAR since has changed its criteria), so the exhibitions in Los Angeles and North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, are on his radar.

“I do have a few years left on my eligibility for the Clash and for the All-Star Race, so I’m surprised no one has really asked or pushed hard to this point yet,” he said. “I guess I’ve been busy in IndyCar, and people assume my schedule is tied up. But looking forward, those would be easy opportunities to come back, but honestly I’ve not had an in-depth serious conversation with anyone yet on any of those fronts.

“I’d love to go to Wilkesboro. I’ve never driven on that racetrack. Lowe’s corporate offices were just down the street, so I’ve driven by it many times. I went on a long bike ride with Matt Kenseth and some friends a few years ago and actually rode my bicycle around the track. So I’d love to go back in a proper race car and event someday and hopefully that opportunity can develop.”

Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 (which put Kimi Raikkonen in the Cup race at Watkins Glen International) would provide an avenue for Johnson’s re-entry to stock cars.

“Justin’s been a longtime friend and someone I stay in touch with, and he’s certainly made it known that the Project 91 car is available if I have interest,” Johnson said. “So I would need to continue those conversations forward.”

–“The Double”: In trying to become the first driver since Kurt Busch in 2014 to race 1,100 miles at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway in the same day, Johnson believes the logistics should be easier. Namely, he won’t have a full-time commitment in either IndyCar and NASCAR, and the reduced Cup schedule for practice and qualifying should free up more time.

“When drivers did it in the past, we had a lot more on-track activity for both series, certainly on the NASCAR side,” Johnson said. “I think how the NASCAR format works now, there’s less of an ask in time. So I do feel like the potential to apply myself and have physically enough time to pull it off is there. I do think the reduced schedule and not running the full IndyCar schedule will give me the time I need before and after to seriously focus and dedicate everything I can and would need to give my best performance in both races.”