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.”

IndyCar Preseason, Day 1: Simon Pagenaud on why he likes teasing Josef Newgarden

Newgarden Pagenaud feud
Joe Skibinski/Penske Entertainment

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — A roundup of nuggets from the opening day of preseason IndyCar Content Days for media that lead into two days of preseason testing Thursday and Friday at The Thermal Club, starting with a playful “feud” between former teammates Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud:

After making a point to needle Newgarden during the Rolex 24 at Daytona (when he was warned for being deemed to have caused a spin by the car driven by Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), Pagenaud laughed about why he likes poking at his ex-teammate at Team Penske.

“I just love to press the button with Josef,” Pagenaud said. “I just love it. I’m being very open about it. I think he knows it, too. It’s funny to see him unsettled a little bit. I like when he gets aggressive. I don’t know why. It’s funny.”

They scrapped a few times as Penske teammates. Pagenaud notably was hot after a 2017 incident at Gateway during Newgarden’s first season with the team, but he later backtracked and blamed it on his French blood.

Pagenaud says all is good between now – though he also admits with a devilish grin that he’s taking advantage of the freedom from leaving Penske last year.

“Absolutely, yeah. I couldn’t do that before,” he said with a laugh about teasing Newgarden. “I would get in trouble.

“Yeah, I can be myself. I can say what I want to say. Nobody is upset about it. I love Josef. Don’t get me wrong. I love the guy.

“Do I love the driver? Not always, but I enjoy pressing the button with him because he seems like such a confident person. Yeah, I like to just go press it a little bit.”

When he was informed of the sardonic comments (Pagenaud asked reporters to make sure they relayed that he enjoyed passing Newgarden in the race) after his first stint at Daytona last weekend, Newgarden took a shot back.

“He doesn’t get many opportunities these days, so I’m sure he enjoyed that,” Newgarden said. “Take them when you can get them. There’s so much happening I don’t even remember half the stuff that happened when I was out there. Hey, he’s a big note-keeper, that guy.”

Pagenaud, who is winless since 2020, conceded that point Tuesday at IndyCar’s media session.

“I will do better this year,” he said. “But I got to build my team up, put myself in that situation. We were not there yet. I hope we can be there this year.

“But certainly not being teammates, you race differently. Now, the driver that he is, I have a huge amount of respect for him. He’s tremendous. I mean, he’s one of the best at what he does. So beating him is even a better reward. But I like my résumé better than his.”

For the record, Newgarden has one more IndyCar championship than Pagenaud but is empty in the Indy 500 win column compared to the 2019 winner at the Brickyard.

During his Rolex 24 availability, Pagenaud also took playful aim at the “Bus Bros,” the branded social and digital content that Newgarden and teammate and buddy Scott McLaughlin have been producing for nearly a year.

“Apparently they hang out together all the time,” Pagenaud cracked. “They’re ‘Bus Bros.’ Do you guys know what this is, the ‘Bus Bros’ thing? Have you watched it? I should start watching it.”

Newgarden and McLaughlin are scheduled to appear together on the second day of the preseason media event at the Palm Springs Convention Center, so stay tuned for the next round of snark.

Pagenaud is among many drivers enthused to get acclimated to The Thermal Club, which is a $275 million motorsports country club of sorts.

But for the Frenchman, Thermal represents more than just a chance to tune up for the 2023 season. Pagenaud, who made his first visit to the desert track three years ago after winning the Indy 500, is thinking about his long-term future.

“It’s actually something I’m really interested in for my future but in another life,” he said. “I love the concept. Actually before my IndyCar career, I was on a project like that myself in France. I was going to build something similar. I had the backing, I had everything going on, but my career took off. I had to give up on the project.

“But it is something I’ve always been interested in. My dad used to run my home racetrack. I had access to it, so I could see how that was going.

“I always had a passion for it because it’s a way to allow the fans to get closer to the car, allow the sport to be more known to the general public. There’s so many things that you can do with a racetrack, not only for races, but so many people that can come to bicycle races, you can have runners do a marathon. It doesn’t have to be just racing. It can be events. I’m into that. I’ve always been. Certainly when it’s time to stop driving, it will be something that I’m interested in, yes. That’s maybe 20 years from now.”

Felix Rosenqvist returns for his third consecutive season at McLaren, the longest stint with one team for the Swede since 2014 in F3.

But he finds himself somewhat in a similar position to last season when his return was uncertain for months during the Alex Palou-Chip Ganassi Racing saga. Palou is back with Ganassi but still expected to join the team in 2024, and with Rossi and O’Ward on long-term deals, Rosenqvist would be unable to stay unless the team added a fourth car.

He is taking it all in stride with the same grace in which he managed last season’s uncertainty.

“I think I handled it probably as good as I could,” Rosenqvist said of last year. “That’s probably a reason why I’m here this year. I think it’s a massive opportunity for me to be back for a third year. I feel like I have all the tools I need to perform, feeling very good with everyone at the car. As I said, there’s so many things happening last year on and off the track. I think as a team, we just really learned a lot from that that we can bring into this season.

“I think we’ll be tough this year. We have a lot of things in the bag to try early this season. A couple of things here at Thermal we want to try. Going into the season, we have pinpointed some areas where we feel we were lacking a little bit, like the short ovals, for example. I feel like we’ve done the best we can to attack all those areas and bring the best possible package we can.”

Rosenqvist is winless since his breakthrough victory over O’Ward at Road America in 2020. Ending that skid certainly would improve his prospects, but he isn’t worried.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future,” he said. “That’s a long time until next year. I think it’s a great opportunity for me. I’m in a good spot. I’m in a well-performing team. I feel well with everyone around me. I feel like I have a good support from the team. I don’t really think too much about that stuff. I just try to do what I can do, which is go fast forward and try to win races.”

After being frozen out of remote access to team data last year, Palou said his working relationship at Ganassi is “back to 100% like it was before from both sides.” The 2021 series champion said he had full privileges restored after he closed the season by winning the finale at Laguna Seca Raceway and then settled on staying with Ganassi a day later.

He is allowed to continue his F1 testing with McLaren, too, though IndyCar will be the priority in-season.

“It was a tough year,” said Palou, whose contract dispute lasted for two months. “Could have been a lot worse, for sure, than what we had but also could have been a little bit better if we didn’t have anything around in our minds. It’s a part of racing.

“I’m just happy that now we know that even with things in our minds, we were able to be successful. Hopefully, we can be back to 2021 things during this season. Yeah, obviously there’s always some moments (in 2022) where you’re like, ‘Oh, no, my God, this is not going the direction I wanted.’ But there was things that were out of my control, obviously. Some things that I could control, as well. But at the end of the day I had all the information from my side, from other sides. I knew that everything could be settled, and it did.”

Pato O’Ward unplugged from the racing world for six weeks during the offseason, ensuring he was fully recharged when the new year arrived.

“I haven’t had the opportunity to do it in the past few years,” said O’Ward, who tested an F1 car in 2021 and then went right into preparing and racing (then winning) the 2022 Rolex 24 at Daytona. “I said, ‘I want at least six weeks. Don’t talk to me, don’t text me, I don’t want to hear anything.’ It’s healing. It’s very healing.

“As much as you love what you do, you need to find a balance of just doing something else. I always tell people, there’s a huge difference between relaxing and recharging. How I recharge is doing things I don’t normally do during the year. Just being at the beach to me is my favorite thing to do after driving race cars. I made sure that I had that kind of time to just enjoy my loved ones. After I was finished with that, I was like, ‘OK, race cars now.’ ”

Marcus Ericsson is planning on a long future with Chip Ganassi Racing, and the 2022 Indy 500 winner seems well-positioned to become the team’s anchor driver if he can maintain last season’s consistency.

Jimmie Johnson has been replaced by the Marcus Armstrong-Takuma Sato combination, and Alex Palou is leaving after this year.

Six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon, 42, is Ganassi’s unquestioned dean until his retirement, but Ericsson clearly is interested in the mantle after that.

“I’m feeling very much at home in the team,” said Ericsson, the Formula One who is entering his fourth season with CGR. “I’m super happy about that. I wish to stay for a very long time, as well. There is some uncertainty with other places maybe in the future, but Dixon seems to be just getting better and better. He might be here for another 10 years or so, who knows.

“But that’s great. Me and Scott, we work really well together. I can still learn a lot from him. I want to be here for a long time and win races and championships together.”

The Swede had a droll response when asked if no longer being the only Marcus will get confusing in Ganassi debriefs. “Yeah, it is; I’m angry,” Ericsson deadpanned. “I think we’re OK. He seems like a good kid. He has a good name.”

Following in the footsteps of Callum Ilott and Christian Lundgaard from F2 to IndyCar, Armstrong is OK with deferring his F1 dreams to run road and street courses as a rookie in 2023. The New Zealander grew up as an IndyCar fan rooting for Dixon, his boyhood idol and fellow countryman.

“I’ve been watching him on TV since I was a kid,” Armstrong, 22, said. “It’s cool because IndyCar is massive where I’m from because of him. I’ve always been so attracted to this championship. Of course, I spent my entire life chasing F1. You can never say ‘never.’ If I’m honest with you, I’m happy where I am now. It’s a dream come true.”

Armstrong hopes to move to full time in 2024 and believes being aligned with a powerhouse such as Ganassi will give him an opportunity to post strong results immediately (just as Ilott and Lundgaard had flashes as rookies last year).

“I’ve been genuinely impressed by the organization, just the strategic point of view that Chip Ganassi Racing has, it’s really quite remarkable,” he said. “I can understand why they’ve had so much success. I think fundamentally I need to get on it straightaway. I have all the information in the world, really. I just need to hit the ground running, do well immediately.”

In among the wildest stories of the offseason, rookie Sting Ray Robb revealed he landed his ride at Dale Coyne Racing because he ran into Indy Lights champion Linus Lundqvist at PitFit Training, a physical fitness and performance center used by many drivers in Indianapolis.

Lundqvist was the presumptive favorite for the DCR No. 51 Dallara-Honda, which was the last open seat heading into the 2022 season. Because of his Indy Lights title (since rebranded as “IndyNXT”) with HMD Motorsports, Lundqvist had a six-figure sponsorship to bring to an IndyCar team, and DCR is partnered with HMD.

“There was a few teams that we were talking to, and Dale’s team was not the one that was at the top of the list because we thought they already had a driver,” Robb said. “Obviously with Linus winning the championship, we assumed with the HMD association there that there would be a straight shoe-in for him.

“But I actually was at PitFit Training one day with Linus and discovered that was not the case. That created an opportunity for us that allowed me to call up my manager, Pieter Rossi, and get him on the phone, and he immediately called Dale and said, ‘Hey, we’re available.’ I think there was a mutual understanding of what availability was for either one of us. That’s when conversations began. Then we had a really good test in 2023 right at the beginning of January, and I think that was kind of the one that set the tone that allowed me to get in the seat.

“I think there’s been some opportunities that were miraculously created that we couldn’t have done on our own.”

Robb, who finished second in last year’s Indy Lights standings, hasn’t talked to Lundqvist since their PitFit meeting.

“Linus does deserve a seat” in IndyCar, Robb said. “His on-track performance was incredible. But it takes more than just a driver to get into IndyCar. You’ve got to have a village around you that supports you, and so I think that that is where my group made a difference. It wasn’t just in my performance, but it was the people around me.

“I feel bad for Linus because as a driver I can feel that way towards him because I could be in that seat if I didn’t have those same people around me. So there you go.”