Jimmie Johnson open to running Indy 500 in 2022 as he showcases lighter side in new ads

Jimmie Johnson Indy 500 2022
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Jimmie Johnson, with wisps of gray in his beard, is a 45-year-old rookie in the IndyCar Series ready to reintroduce himself (and possibly as an Indy 500 driver in 2022).

He’s a windbag, a craft-o-maniac, a guy who goes, is really into eggs and keeps things fresh.

Those are just some of the labels that Carvana has tagged on Johnson during a series of seven spots highlighting the online car dealer’s first partnership with a professional athlete. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion begins his official transition to IndyCar this weekend with Sunday’s season opener at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama with three ads debuting during the NBC broadcast (which will begin at 3 p.m. ET Sunday).

This won’t be the vanilla version of Johnson fans became accustomed to during 19 Cup Series seasons driving for buttoned-up Hendrick Motorsports. Those who know Johnson away from his day job always have decried his image, insisting he’s actually a hard-partying daredevil who never shies away from a bad idea.

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Carvana, which is new to motorsports with its Johnson sponsorship and has a light sports marketing portfolio, decided to use Johnson’s true personality in making its ad campaign for the IndyCar season. It hired The Malloy Brohters for the spots, and Johnson already knew both Brendan Malloy and Emmett Malloy through other connections.

He was comfortable when the Malloys came to him about using a laxative to demonstrate how quickly Carvana can complete a car sale, or eating seven hard-boiled eggs for the seven-day test it out policy. Johnson even bedazzled a pair of jeans to demonstrate personalized financing options.

So who is this loose and easy-going Johnson (who has been more active than ever on social media)? Same guy he always was.

“You know, this is just what I’ve figured in my own head and I’ve got nothing to back it up, but I’ve given people a reason to hate me for so many years, right?” Johnson said in an interview with The Associated Press.

“I was Jeff Gordon’s hand-picked guy and there was a crowd I was never going to win over. Then in my final year, people were like `OK, it’s his last year, he’s been here a long time, we’re not going to cheer him but we’re give him some credit.’ Now that I am not there, I wonder if there’s a fan base that has finally decided, `Alright, he’s cool. He’s served his time. I respect him for doing something different.’ I don’t know, but there’s some kind of shift going on and people are finally starting to lighten up about me.”

The road ahead won’t be easy for Johnson as he unlearns two decades of driving a heavy stock car and adapts to a nimble, open-wheel machine against drivers half his age. Johnson is slated to drive just the 12 road and street course events on the IndyCar schedule for Chip Ganassi Racing with Tony Kanaan picking up the five oval races in the No. 48.

His barometers have so far only been in testing with his first true action this weekend at Barber.

“I’ve got a lot of territory to cover yet and a lot of things I haven’t done yet. I haven’t had any practice yet, and I have to be honest with myself, I haven’t been through a race weekend yet,” Johnson said. “I haven’t qualified a car. I haven’t seen a track truly evolve. I’ve never been on a red tire, I’ve never been in traffic. I’ve not passed a car. I’ve not done a start or a restart. I’ve not done an in or an out yet lap. I just have so much stuff to learn.”

And yet he’s excited. The challenge has invigorated him. Johnson won 83 Cup races and a record-tying seven titles but went winless his final three seasons. Pushing himself in a new formula has been galvanizing.

He’s found fresh energy in the IndyCar paddock. The NASCAR routine sees many drivers rush to the airport after the race. In IndyCar, they often stick around for parties or wine-fueled dinners.

Johnson has said for years that the Indianapolis 500 is off the table – in part because his wife doesn’t approve of the dangers at Indianapolis Motor Speedway – but that stance seems to be softening. He recently said he was impressed with the aeroscreen, the cockpit safety device introduced last season by IndyCar.

He’s a no for the race next month but told AP that 2022 is no longer off the table.

“I need to test on an oval, that’s the first step, and I’ve let the team know that’s certainly the first step I need to do to work through this process,” Johnson said. “I think a year in this sport certainly is going to help myself in understanding the risks. Chani really looks to me to where my gut is on these things and the journey where I’ve taken her on how safe Indy cars are… we’re both tracking in the same direction and she’s like, `Go try one on an oval, go see what you think.’ ”

Until then, he will go to Alabama this weekend and then look to his very first street course, in St. Petersburg, Florida, in following his childhood dreams. IndyCar is what Johnson wanted to race growing up watching hero Rick Mears but his path instead took him to NASCAR.

Now he gets his chance after a full career and no reason not to start anew.

“I’m nervous and excited. Some days more nervous than excited, but I dig this,” Johnson said. “I love the accountability of fear and excitement and fear and all that goes with it, and putting in the time and learning all about the process everywhere I can right now.”

IMSA Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta: How to watch, start times, schedule, entry list

AUTO: NOV 13 IMSA - Motul Petit Le Mans
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Start times, TV schedule: The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship will conclude the 2022 season this weekend with the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta, which also will mark the end of the line for the DPi class.

The premier Daytona Prototype international category, which started in 2017, will be replaced by the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with its LMDh cars that will establish a bridge to Le Mans.

For the third time in four years, an Acura will be crowned the champion in DPi as the No. 10 of Wayne Taylor Racing holds a 19-point edge over the No. 60 of Meyer Shank Racing.

Last year, WTR’s No. 10 entered the season finale with a 19-point lead but lost the title to the No. 31 Cadillac of Action Express.

Full-time WTR drivers Filipe Albuquerque and Ricky Taylor (who will be joined by Brendon Hartley in the No. 10 this weekend) have a series-leading four victories this season. The MSR duo of Tom Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves this weekend) won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and have five runner-up finishes this year.

Championship scenarios in the other four categories:

GTD Pro: Points leaders Matt Campbell and Mathieu Jaminet will clinch the title by starting in their No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R.

–GTD: There are 140 points separating the top four teams with Roman De Angelis and the No. 27 Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3 leading by 45 points.

–LMP2: John Farano is first in the driver standings by 33 points over Dwight Merriman and Ryan Dalziel. In the team standings, the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports leads by 19 points over the No. 8 Tower Motorsport (Farano’s team).

–LMP3: No. 54 CORE autosport drivers Jon Bennett and Colin Braun lead by 83 points over the No. 74 Riley Motorsports of Gar Robinson.

Here are the start times, starting lineup, schedule and TV info for the IMSA Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta (all times are ET):

Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta start times, schedule, TV info

When: Saturday, 12:10 p.m. ET

Race distance: Ten hours on the 12-turn, 2.54-mile road course

TV: Noon-3 p.m., NBC; 3-10:30 p.m., USA Network. Peacock, the NBC Sports App,and NBCSports.com will have streaming coverage of the event from flag to flag beginning at noon. Leigh Diffey and Dave Burns are the play by play announcers with analysts Calvin Fish, Townsend Bell, James Hinchcliffe and Brian Till. The pit reporters are Kevin Lee, Hannah Newhouse, Dillon Welch and Matt Yocum.

IMSA.com live TV qualifying stream: Friday, 3:35 p.m. ET.

IMSA Radio: All sessions are live on IMSA.com and RadioLeMans.com; SiriusXM live race coverage will begin Saturday at noon (XM 207, Internet/App 992).

Forecast: According to Wunderground.com, it’s expected to be 63 degrees with an 85% chance of rain at the green flag.

Entry list: Click here to see the 48-car field for the IMSA Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta

Daily schedule IMSA Petit Le Mans

Here’s a rundown of the Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta in Braselton, Georgia:

Wednesday, Sept. 28

9:30 a.m.: Mazda MX-5 practice

10:25 a.m.: Porsche Carrera Cup

12:30 p.m.: Prototype Challenge practice

1:15 p.m.: Mazda MX-5 practcice

2 p.m.: Porsche Carrera Cup practice

3:30 p.m.: Michelin Challenge practice

Thursday, Sept. 29

8 a.m.: Prototype Challenge practice

9 a.m.: Porsche Carrera Cup qualifying

9:50 a.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

11:40 a.m.: Prototype Challenge qualifying

12:10 p.m.: Michelin Challenge practice

1:50 p.m.: Mazda MX-5, Race 1

2:55 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

5 p.m.: Porsche Carrera Cup, Race 1

6 p.m.: Michelin Challenge qualifying

7:30 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

Friday, Sept. 30

8 a.m.: Prototype Challenge race

9:50 a.m.: Mazda MX-5, Race 2

10:55 a.m.: Porsche Carrera Cup, Race 2

1:10 p.m.: IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race

3:40 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship qualifying

Saturday, Oct. 1

9:15 a.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

12:10 p.m.: Petit Le Mans