What’s next for Jimmie Johnson’s 2023 racing schedule? Questions, answers and analysis

Jimmie Johnson 2023
Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

MONTEREY, California – With sponsor Carvana returning, Jimmie Johnson knows he will be racing in 2023. But now he needs to figure out where — and IndyCar, IMSA and possibly NASCAR are among the many options.

On the eve of the last race of his first full season in the NTT IndyCar Series, Johnson told reporters Friday at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca that “Carvana is behind me in whatever I choose to do for 2023” after being pleased by the return on its multimillion-dollar investment the past two seasons. The online car sales retailer has made a massive promotional push behind Johnson, who has been the focus of its national ad campaigns since he joined IndyCar in 2021.

“They see such a high value in being a part of the IndyCar Series, the cars that I’m driving, the series I’m involved with, that ultimately whatever path I choose to have in ’23, they’ll support it,” he said.

INDYCAR AT LAGUNA SECADetails, schedules for watching the season finale on NBC

It’s the third consecutive year that Johnson will cement his racing plans during the fourth quarter but with a few important twists.

Unlike the last two seasons when IndyCar and the Rolex 24 at Daytona (along with other IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship endurance races) were the main focus, Johnson’s schedule seems wide open for next year. And he has more time to plot out his next moves than last year when he and Carvana didn’t finalize plans until December.

“I wish I had more to share,” Johnson said when asked what he wants to do next year. “I do have this news in September vs. December last year. My typical journey, especially in IndyCar, the season finishes, and I take some time to figure out what I really want to do. Explore the options that I have in front of me. And then make a decision.

“So I feel very good to have this news and to know that what I provide, what Chip Ganassi Racing provides. What the series is about, Carvana wants to be back. They’re willing to support a full IndyCar schedule if that’s what I choose to do. So now it’s time to go home and really look inside myself and figure out what my goals are personally and professionally. Spend some time talking to the girls about it and make some decisions.”

Whichever decisions are made, it’s clear Johnson is keeping all his options open for next year — even a potential NASCAR cameo.

As he prepares to mull the next chapter of his storied career with his wife, two daughters and his business team, here are some pressing questions (and analysis) of the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion’s plans in ’23:

Q: What’s the likelihood of Johnson racing in IndyCar next season?

A: Virtually 100 percent, even though Johnson stopped short of confirming it Friday.

It makes sense that he would hold off details because Carvana’s commitment has been “recent,” and Chip Ganassi Racing will need time to nail down its plans depending on whether Johnson decides he wants to race part or full time. During his part-time season in 2021, Johnson raced the road and street courses while Tony Kanaan drove the No. 48 Dallara-Honda on ovals.

Ganassi could be interested in a similar program next year but running the car as an Indy 500 one-off or perhaps only on ovals (as Ed Carpenter Racing does with its third car) also could be possibilities.

Johnson said team owner Chip Ganassi has been involved in the Carvana conversations.

“It’s all to be determined,” Johnson said when asked about his IndyCar plans. “I love being here. I want to be here. I do feel the other piece of this puzzle is Chip Ganassi Racing and the support from Chip and everyone internally. It’s just about me taking some time to really lay out the schedule that I want for 2023.”

Q: Why would Johnson scale back from a full-time season?

A: Even though IndyCar’s 17-race schedule is half as long as NASCAR’s 36-race slate, Johnson still found it nearly as taxing. He has joked since last year about traveling and working nearly as much since his “retirement” from stock-car racing.

Even though he has fewer races, he still has the commitments of multiple series that are accompanied by testing (which is virtually nonexistent in NASCAR) and long simulator sessions.

Johnson has made regular commutes to Indianapolis for Honda Performance Development’s simulator (the simulator for Chevy/GM Racing, which includes his IMSA Cadillac program, is within driving distance of his Charlotte home). Per the Indianapolis Star’s Nathan Brown, Johnson has made 15 simulator runs and tested four times this year with Ganassi.

“This year has been more of a time commitment on a full-time schedule basis than I expected,” Johnson said. “I don’t know where my IMSA plans sit, I don’t know exactly where my IndyCar plans sit. I want to get to Le Mans. There are other goals that I have in life, personal and professional as well. Really just kind of go through my normal process, take a bit of time, digest it. Meet with Team Johnson, figure out what works.”

An oval-only schedule also might have more appeal for Johnson, who finished a career-best fifth July 24 at Iowa Speedway and said Friday that his 11th at Iowa the day before was the highlight of his 2022 season.

“It’s all part of the process,” Johnson said when asked if he definitely would return to the Indy 500. “I feel like I just need to let the dust settle on the season and figure out what my personal and professional goals are.”

Q: What about sports cars and the 24 Hours of Le Mans?

A: Johnson is considered a prime candidate to join the driver lineup for the Garage 56 entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans (the specially built Next Gen Camaro is being fielded jointly by Hendrick Motorsports and NASCAR).

He also has finished second three times in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, and a win in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar classic remains high on his bucket list. Because driving the No. 48 Cadillac (which has been funded by Ally, his former sponsor in NASCAR) also reunites him with his former crew chief (Hendrick Motorsports vice president of competition Chad Knaus), Johnson highly enjoys the IMSA endurance events.

He missed the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in March because of an IndyCar conflict this year, and he “eagerly” has been waiting for IndyCar to release its 2023 schedule.

If Le Mans or Sebring are in conflict with IndyCar, that would factor into Johnson’s decision.

“That’s another element of this whole group of options that I have in front of me,” he said. “It’s just another one of those options I’ve got to look at and spend some time in the coming weeks.”

Q: Could NASCAR be one of those options?

A: Johnson initially didn’t mention any Cup or Xfinity races as a possibility. But when told that fans would like to see him race at North Wilkesboro Speedway (home of the 2023 All-Star Race), he smiled and said it could be an option. (Though NASCAR regularly changes its All-Star Race eligibility and formats, there surely would be room made for Johnson if he decides he wants to run the highly anticipated short track event.)

He hasn’t made any NASCAR starts since the 2020 Cup finale at Phoenix Raceway, but Johnson has been open to doing a one-off (and perhaps get a crack at driving the Next Gen car that made its debut this year).

Q: What is Carvana’s budget for Johnson’s 2023 season?

A: Johnson said there “hadn’t been any conversations” yet on concrete numbers, but he talked with the confidence of someone with substantial backing. While he won’t have a blank check, it seems clear that Carvana would have a similar spend to this season.

Q: What else could influence Johnson’s 2023 schedule?

A: Johnson, who turns 47 later this month, hinted there “are new options developing for me that I’ve got to take a hard look at as well.” When pressed for details, Johnson said they were “good options” in motorsports.

But he also will weigh any potential impact on his family, which had major input into his decision to race ovals this season. His wife, Chandra, is mulling an expansion of her art gallery, and he actively supports the interests of daughters Genevieve, 12, and Lydia, 9.

“We have some personal goals, too,” he said. “We’d love to live abroad for a year. There’s just a lot of elements that play into this.

“I feel very fortunate that I had my serious car racing career, and this is really about the experience. Equal to the professional opportunities I have in ’23, I want to look at the personal opportunities for me and my family, and just need some to get that organized.”

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance

LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).