Jimmie Johnson announces deal with Chip Ganassi Racing for IndyCar

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Jimmie Johnson has signed a deal to race for Chip Ganassi Racing in the NTT IndyCar Series.

The Associated Press was first to report Wednesday that Johnson is working on finalizing sponsorship for a two-year program to field Johnson in road and street course races in IndyCar. It also could put Johnson in a Ganassi Chevrolet at select NASCAR events, the AP said.

“Ganassi was highly motivated to give me a chance to drive a car to see what I thought and the experience was all that I hoped for and more,” Johnson told The Associated Press. “I left a good impression with them where there’s definitely interest on their side and now it’s time to formalize things and get the ball rolling.”

In a video posted by Johnson, team owner Chip Ganassi said Johnson always said he wanted to drive for his team in IndyCar but “I didn’t realize he was serious about it. Our team couldn’t be happier that Jimmie wants to be here, so we’re looking forward to it.”

There was no confirmation of any races in Chip Ganassi Racing’s Wednesday release that announced “a partnership that will see (Johnson) officially explore the possibility of racing a full road and street course calendar in the NTT IndyCar Series for the 2021 and ’22 seasons.

IndyCar has yet to announce its schedule for next season, but it’s expected by the end of the month. Series officials have said it’s likely to be a 17-race slate similar to the original 2020 schedule, which featured 11 street and road courses.

“As part of a natural progression, I wanted to publicly show the alignment with Chip Ganassi Racing to kick the sponsorship program into high gear,” Johnson said in the release. “The goal is to run the full road and street program, and today is a very important first step in accomplishing that goal.”

On the Dale Jr. Download podcast last month, Johnson said he wanted to run about 15 races in 2021, including at least a dozen IndyCar races on road and street courses (along with potentially a handful of NASCAR, off-road and sports car events).

He also is open to the Indianapolis 500 in 2022 after watching how the aeroscreen safety device has performed this season.

Jimmie Johnson tested July 28 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in an IndyCar Dallara-Honda for Ganassi (three weeks after an initial test was scrubbed because of a positive COVID-19 test). The seven-time Cup Series champion said the session reignited his passion for wanting to race in IndyCar.

“It only lit the fire more,” Johnson told The Associated Press. “I want to do this more than ever before. It was something new, something different. NASCAR has been so good to me. and I am so proud of the success I’ve had. But to try something new, man, this was really cool.”

Johnson had been angling for an IndyCar ride since attending the NTT Series’ preseason test at Austin, Texas, He initially was scheduled to test for Arrow McLaren SP at Barber Motorsports Park in April and was fitted for a seat before the session was canceled because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown said in July that the team remained interested in fielding a car for Johnson even after his test with Ganassi. Arrow McLaren SP managing director Taylor Kiel reaffirmed the point in a media conference call last week.

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.