The buzz is back for Jimmie Johnson as his IndyCar and IMSA seasons take flight

IndyCar Jimmie Johnson buzz
Chris Owens/IndyCar

The buzz goes beyond the boot cut these days for Jimmie Johnson, which is good for a freshly minted IndyCar driver who spent a few years on the margins.

The seven-time Cup Series champion endured a muted ending to his illustrious NASCAR career with three winless seasons and two consecutive playoff misses. Yet since hanging up his Hendrick Motorsports helmet, Johnson seems to be making headlines again more than ever — but now he’s being thrust into the center of positive narratives.

The most recent example is a runner-up finish in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, which was so well-received that Johnson knew within hours that it would lead to more IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship races (starting with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring later this month).

Viewership for the Rolex 24, which also included Cup champion Chase Elliott, spiked 19 percent.

NEW LOOK: The No. 48 IndyCar livery that Jimmie Johnson helped design

“All the amazing exposure that all four drivers received, Action Express Racing, Ally, Mr. Hendrick, everybody involved was like, ‘We’ve got to do this again,’ ” Johnson said Thursday at the preseason NTT IndyCar Series Content Day. “Literally by Monday morning after car dropoff at 8:00 for my kids, I had a pretty good sense that it was going to happen. There was just that much excitement immediately following the race and the morning after.”

With a carefully cultivated and strategic approach to social media, along with a sterling reputation as all-around good guy, Johnson, 45, has built one of the most appealing driver brands in motorsports – which has positioned him well for calling the shots on the pet projects in his career post-NASCAR.

When he wanted to run the Rolex 24 for the first time in 10 years, he brokered a deal through team owner Rick Hendrick with Ally, which sponsored his Cup car the past two seasons. Deciding he wanted to sign a two-year deal with Chip Ganassi Racing’s IndyCar team, Johnson and his team wooed Carvana, which is a new sponsor to auto racing.

But it’s not all corporate for the El Cajon, California, native, whose fun-loving side always has come across better on social media. That’s been evident in the Boot Cut vs. Cuff “controversy” that has dominated NASCAR Twitter for the past week and reaffirmed what a bridge Johnson can be between many series.

His social engagement and page view numbers have his sponsors and IndyCar taking notice that he can move the needle as well as any of the series’ established stars.

“I do realize that my decision to go INDYCAR racing, my sports car racing and the Rolex 24, I can see, and we can all see that I’ve had some effect in growing, helping,” Johnson said. “There’s been a nice effect of me participating in these things. It’s great to know.

Jimmie Johnson will keep his car number on the move from NASCAR to IndyCar (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

“I kind of talked some sponsors into being involved with me because I felt like I could do that. So to have that taking place has been really good. Certainly the last two years in NASCAR were trying for a lot of reasons, but I think a lot of people can identify with my desire to try something new, my desire to be uncomfortable and kind of chase a childhood dream of mine.

“And then I think from the sports car side, I’ve always let it be known that I’ve had a great interest in it. I raced in the early 2000s quite a bit with GAINSCO team and with Bill Riley and the Crawford group, as well. So it’s really kind of coming around and I’m really happy to see that it’s being received well, and it is fun to have that connection back to my NASCAR buddies. Believe me, there’s a lot of them asking questions about these cars and what it’s like to drive them and how much fun I’m having. I think a lot of people are feeling inspired to maybe get uncomfortable and try to drive other vehicles.”

If a wave of stock-car crossovers were to follow Johnson’s path, it would spark another round of debate over boot cut vs. cuffed. Johnson inadvertently stirred up the lighthearted tempest when he posted a photo of his pleated new uniform last Friday, drawing playful derisive comments from Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer and Kyle Busch (all of whom prefer NASCAR’s baggier style).

“I think it’s hilarious,” Johnson said. “I didn’t expect it to do all that, but what is funny is I remember racing forever with the peg leg-style pant, and then when I went to NASCAR I had the bootcut and I thought that was so cool.

“So I can identify with what they’re saying and have a good laugh from it.”

Everything else about IndyCar has been all serious for Johnson, who has gone to the lengths of logging laps with teenagers in grassroots formula cars at several tracks (testing restrictions limit his practice time in an IndyCar).

In a recent interview with, Johnson said he was roughly 60 percent of the way toward full acclimation to IndyCar.

How long will it take to reach 100 percent immersion, and can it happen this season?

“I can say that the last 10 or 15 percent is going to be the hardest,” he said. “I’ve made some great strides. I’m going in the right direction. I’m within a second of my teammates now, which has really been my goal out of the box was to try to be within a second of them.

“But that last little bit, that’s what the elite guys are so good at and chase their whole career. I don’t know if I’ll get to 100 percent with the amount of years that I have to give this a try, but there’s still so many things I haven’t even experienced yet. I’ve never been on a red tire (which is softer and faster). I’ve just recently had a chance to drive a street circuit tire and understand how much more grip it has versus a traditional road course tire. When you look at the street course tracks, I won’t even be able to drive on one until the practice, the opening practice session that we have prior to qualifying.

Jimmie Johnson during IndyCar testing at Sebring International Raceway last month (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

“I feel like my best chance, though, with all that being said, is later in the year when we get to Laguna Seca. I’ve been able to test there twice. I will have a large part of a season under my belt, and I think that’s probably a track that I should be in there racing with the guys. Or I hope to be.”

In the meantime, Johnson plans to keep grinding away on learning his No. 48 Dallara-Honda. With help from teammate Scott Dixon and Ganassi driving coach and three-time Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti, he has been poring through the reams of testing data.

“I’ve been really surprised how much time is required,” Johnson said. “It’s a lot more work than what I experienced on a weekly basis in the NASCAR side of things.

“And then the intensity of driving that car. It’s a monster. That’s the best way I can put it. There’s so much power, so much downforce, so much grip. It’s wild to drive.”

Scott Dixon and Jimmie Johnson debrief during a test at Sebring International Raceway (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

Roger Penske discusses flying tire at Indy 500 with Dallara executives: ‘We’ve got to fix that’


INDIANAPOLIS – Roger Penske spoke with Dallara executives Monday morning about the loose tire that went flying over the Indianapolis Motor Speedway catchfence and into a Turn 2 parking lot.

The left-rear wheel from Kyle Kirkwood’s No. 27 Dallara-Honda was sheared off in a collision at speed as Kirkwood tried to avoid the skidding No. 6 Dallara-Chevrolet of Felix Rosenqvist on Lap 183 of the 107th Indianapolis 500.

No one seriously was hurt in the incident (including Kirkwood, whose car went upside down and slid for several hundred feet), though an Indianapolis woman’s Chevy Cruze was struck by the tire. The Indy Star reported a fan was seen and released from the care center after sustaining minor injuries from flying debris in the crash.

During a photo shoot Monday morning with Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden at the IMS Yard of Bricks, Penske met with Dallara founder and owner Gian Paolo Dallara and Dallara USA CEO Stefano dePonti. The Italian company has been the exclusive supplier of the current DW12 chassis to the NTT IndyCar series for 11 years.

“The good news is we didn’t have real trouble with that tire going out (of the track),” Penske, who bought Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2020, told a few reporters shortly afterward. “I saw it hit. When it went out, I saw we were OK. I talked to the Dallara guys today. We’re going to look at that, but I guess the shear (force) from when (Rosenqvist’s) car was sitting, (Kirkwood’s car) went over and just that shear force tore that tether. Because we have tethers on there, and I’ve never seen a wheel come off.

“That to me was probably the scariest thing. We’ve got to fix that. We’ve got to fix that so that doesn’t happen again.”

Asked by NBC Sports if IndyCar would be able to address it before Sunday’s Detroit Grand Prix or before the next oval race at Iowa Speedway, Penske said, “The technical guys should look at it. I think the speed here, a couple of hundred (mph) when you hit it vs. 80 or 90 or whatever it might be, but that was a pinch point on the race.”

In a statement released Monday to WTHR and other media outlets, IndyCar said that it was “in possession of the tire in Sunday’s incident and found that the tether did not fail. This is an isolated incident, and the series is reviewing to make sure it does not happen again. IndyCar takes the safety of the drivers and fans very seriously. We are pleased and thankful that no one was hurt.”

IndyCar provided no further explanation for how the wheel was separated from the car without the tether failing.

IndyCar began mandating wheel suspension tethers using high-performance Zylon material after a flying tire killed three fans at Charlotte Motor Speedway during a May 1, 1999 race. Three fans also were struck and killed by a tire at Michigan International Speedway during a July 26, 1998 race.

The IndyCar tethers can withstand a force of more than 22,000 pounds, and the rear wheel tethers were strengthened before the 2023 season.