AVONDALE, Arizona – Though the advice and support eventually might end their partnership, Jimmie Johnson credits Chip Ganassi as a major reason why he’s entering NASCAR ownership – and possibly exiting IndyCar.
After two seasons driving the No. 48 Dallara-Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing, a new minority stake in Petty GMS will make Cup Series stock cars the priority for Johnson in 2023. He grew to appreciate the possibility of being a team owner through Ganassi bringing him behind the curtain for a role that “was never in the cards” for the seven-time Cup champion.
It’s been a longtime reality for Ganassi, whose teams have captured 21 championships (14 in IndyCar) and 240 victories (including five in the Indy 500 and eight in the Rolex 24 at Daytona) over the past 32 years since he ended a brief driving career.
“Chip Ganassi kind of suggested that’s how he got his start (saying), ‘Look, I transitioned from driving a car and moved into team ownership,’ ” Johnson told a small group of reporters Friday after a news conference at Phoenix Raceway. “He’s been really helpful for me in my process of bringing partners into the sport and being in IndyCar and has been very kind to show me behind the scenes what takes place and how things work. I know Mr. Hendrick always had that available for me (while racing at Hendrick Motorsports from 2022-20), but I was never interested. I was too busy driving and focused on that. In the last couple of years, I’ve been more interested in the business side. I’ve done a lot of growing there and help from a lot of areas and certainly from Chip.”
The growth might lead Johnson away from Ganassi – and perhaps IndyCar in general — next year for multiple reasons. Though Johnson wants to race IndyCar next season (his original plan was eight to 10 races, including the Indy 500), his new part-time schedule in NASCAR will create some roadblocks.
— Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) November 4, 2022
Petty GMS is a Chevrolet-affiliated team, which creates a manufacturer conflict with returning to Ganassi in a Honda. Johnson said he has yet to talk to any IndyCar teams or explore the potential manufacturer dilemma (“Haven’t crossed that bridge yet.”). Virtually all of the competitive Chevrolet teams in IndyCar (Team Penske, Arrow McLaren SP and Ed Carpenter Racing) have indicated they’d be unlikely to add a car at the Brickyard next May.
Though Johnson wanted to run the Indy 500-Coke 600 doubleheader, he also wants to race the 2023 All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway – which would conflict with Indy 500 qualifying weekend.
Even if he wanted to race for Ganassi, the team still is trying to nail down who will replace Johnson in its fourth entry. The No. 48 went full time last year after a partial schedule of street and road courses in 2021.
While hammering out the deal to join forces with Maury Gallagher and Richard Petty, Johnson said he’s been in regular contact with Ganassi, who has remained in his corner despite the possibility of losing him next year.
“I’ve kept Chip in the loop,” Johnson said. “We’re obviously hopeful there is some form of IndyCar involvement for me. That’s still very much an objective for myself. Chip’s trying to figure out what makes sense for the four full-time cars and will there be a fifth car at Indy. In conjunction with that, he’s got a WEC program that’s he’s trying to start and get people over to Europe with cars and equipment, so he’s been very busy. We’ve talked a few times. He knows what’s going on, and we both still do have an interest to try to have me in one of his Indy cars. There’s still just a lot to sort out, including of course the manufacturer piece.
“I can’t express how cool he’s been to work for, and when I had the idea, how supportive he was. And throughout the two years I spent in IndyCar, and then as I was trying to make my decision again how supportive he’s been just for me to be me. Do me. Whatever I want to do. As this opportunity came along, he’s been absolutely the same. Same tone, same experience. A day or two ago, when I called him with the official news (about NASCAR), he was so happy. Just genuinely happy for me.”
Johnson and his business team brokered the Carvana sponsorship that funded the bulk of his races with Ganassi. Before the IndyCar season finale, Johnson said Carvana had given “the green light if I wanted to go back to full-time IndyCar racing.” After initially indicating he would take the sponsorship across several series, Johnson said the interest from NASCAR teams “really kicked into gear” shortly after the IndyCar season.
Johnson said he is “very optimistic” that Carvana will continue forward with him into NASCAR (likely starting at the Daytona 500). He also remains interested in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Next Gen ride at the 24 Hours of Le Mans ( “I’ve made sure that my calendar is nice and open in June”).
He also has invitations from old buddies to race off-road trucks (both in the Midwest and in the desert), and former Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman has offered a Chili Bowl ride.
But Johnson has been too busy firming up his NASCAR deal to sift through all the options – or understand how some might now be impossible. He said “I haven’t heard no yet, so I’m encouraged” about still racing IndyCar but also concedes his NASCAR obligations could restrict him from the testing and qualifying needed for the Indy 500.
“I have been solely focused on this and don’t know the impact of this commitment and relationship and how that plays out,” Johnson said. “But once the dust settles from here, I’ll get deeper into those other conversations and try to build out the best race schedule I can have that does fit with the new commitment and obligation that I have here.”