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 Johnson 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.”

Max Verstappen could clinch second F1 title with victory in Singapore Grand Prix

Max Verstappen F1 Singapore

While last year’s intense Formula One title battle went to the wire and captivated the world of sport, this year’s F1 championship long has seemed a procession for Max Verstappen that could end Sunday in the Singapore Grand Prix.

If the Red Bull driver wins, and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc crumbles, Verstappen will claim his second consecutive series title.

Verstappen leads Leclerc by 116 points with six races remaining in the 2022 season and will clinch the title if he scores 22 points more than Leclerc, his most realistic head-to-head challenger.

Verstappen, who turned 25 on Friday, must win to clinch a second world title, along with two other scenarios involving Leclerc. If Verstappen wins, Leclerc can finish no higher than ninth; if Verstappen wins and earns a bonus point for fastest lap, Leclerc can finish no higher than eighth.

“It’s quite a long shot,” Verstappen said. “I need a lot of luck for it to happen here, so I don’t really count on it.”

It is more realistic that Verstappen secures the title Oct. 9 at the Japanese GP.

“I think Suzuka will be my first proper opportunity to win the title,” the Dutchman said. “So I’m looking forward to Singapore right now, but I’m also very excited for next week.”

Still, there’ll be no tension in the air Sunday night at the Marina Bay Street Circuit, as in Abu Dhabi last year when Mercedes star Lewis Hamilton lost the title on the last lap to Verstappen. Hamilton missed out on a record eighth F1 title in a controversial finish following a chaotic late restart.

That fans won’t get to see any such drama this season is much to Hamilton’s regret.

“I feel for the fans . . . Last year, going right down to the wire, that was intense for everybody and so it’s never great when the season finishes early,” Hamilton said. “For you, as the one individual (winner) it’s great, but for the actual sport, (it) is not spectacular. Let’s hope for the future that it’s a bit better.”

Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez (125 points back), Mercedes driver George Russell (132 behind) and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr. (152) are mathematical title challengers only.

Red Bull is unlikely to allow Perez an opportunity to beat Verstappen, though, and would deploy him to defend its star driver. Verstappen has won 11 of 16 races, including the past five, taking his career tally to 31.

“It’s been a really special season, and I’m enjoying it a lot,” he said. “But I (will) probably enjoy it more after the season, looking back at it.”

He’s also won from seven different grid positions – a single-season F1 record – including starting from 14th at the Belgian GP last month.

“It’s even good to watch when you’re in the car,” McLaren driver Lando Norris said. “Especially when he starts (far back) and still wins quite easily.”

Hamilton hasn’t been close enough to challenge Verstappen this year after so long in the spotlight.

Two of Hamilton’s came on the last day: in 2008 with an overtake on the last corner of the final race, and in 2014 when he beat then-Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in Abu Dhabi. Two years later, he lost the title in the last race to Rosberg.

Hamilton won the championship with three races left in 2015, and he won the 2020 title at the Turkish GP in a shortened season due to the coronavirus pandemic.

With seven titles, that put him even with fellow great Michael Schumacher, who won the 2002 championship with six races remaining. An outstanding campaign saw Schumacher place first or second in 16 of 17 races and third in Malaysia – a race won by his younger brother, Ralf.

Hamilton has a record 103 victories but none this season.

Mercedes has struggled with ground effects, where the floor generates aerodynamic grip – an issue known as porpoising or bouncing – that has been particularly difficult on street circuits like Monaco or Azerbaijan.

Singapore’s tight and sinewy 3.1-mile street course again could be challenging.

“We hope that the car works better here,” Hamilton said. “It really depends how bumpy it is, and the bumps often set the car off. Maybe the car will be fine. Maybe it won’t.”

He does think Mercedes has figured out how to maximize opportunities when they do come.

“We know where those limitations are; we just have to try and work around them,” he said. “I think we were very fortunate, we’re in a much better place I think. So I hope that we’re not far away (from a victory).”

Russell seems to have coped better, however, and leads sixth-place Hamilton by 35 points in the standings. He has seven podium finishes compared to six for Hamilton, who was fifth in the second practice after leading the opening session. The Ferraris of Sainz and Leclerc topped the second practice.

Williams driver Alex Albon returns to racing just three weeks after being hospitalized with appendicitis and then suffering subsequent respiratory failure.

Albon jumped back into the Williams FW44 for the first practice session on Friday in hot and humid evening conditions.

“It’s definitely audacious to come back for the toughest race of the season having only just recovered,” Russell said. “But it just goes to show the sort of grit and determination he has.”

Drivers lose around 5 kilos (11 pounds) in weight through dehydration during Sunday’s race.