When you have the talent, drive and ambition to do something, great things can come your way. A Californian kid with a led foot and poise made his name racing in Nascar for 18 seasons. In those 18 seasons, Jimmie Johnson became the Nascar Cup Champion 7 times, tying the marks set by Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. In some of Nascar’s most competitive seasons, it was Johnson who topped the likes of Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch. When he closed that chapter of his career, the student of the sport decided to take that talent and drive to IndyCar.
In his first season, the learning curve was tremendous on road and street courses inside the cockpit of an IndyCar. Strides were made, but taking what you’ve learned over 18 seasons in a stock car and doing the exact opposite inside an IndyCar, braking later, mentally preparing, adjusting your hands, is one of the hardest transitions in sports. Johnson did it, and in his second season in IndyCar, it was time to show the world he still had that led foot and ambition, running a full time IndyCar schedule, including oval tracks and the Indianapolis 500.
Johnson challenged his first oval in an IndyCar at Texas Motor Speedway. A familiar track that saw him win 7 times in 35 Cup starts and place inside the Top 10 in 22 of those races. He charged late from an 18th starting position to finish 6th, passing drivers on a track that only had one racing groove. It was the Jimmie Johnson that all racing fans wanted to see, one of the best in another discipline racing on a fast high bank oval that he was familiar with.
It was onto the Indy 500 where Jimmie Johnson would be named the Rookie of the Year. He brought thousands of new eyes to the sport of IndyCar and the Indy 500. With over 2.5 million Twitter followers and a great media team behind him, he was embraced by the fans as well as his fellow competitors. “I can’t tell you how many times a fan would come up wearing the 48 Nascar gear and say, this is my first IndyCar race, I followed you here.” Johnson mentioned during his YouTube video announcement. He answered all the media questions, stayed after practice sessions to sign autographs and became a huge component to growing IndyCar over the 2022 season. Despite a result not to his liking, Johnson led 2 laps and qualified inside the first four rows on Pole Day.
The decision of Johnson stepping away from full time competition is the right one. “I have improved but the challenge was two or three times greater than I originally thought,” Johnson said on a YouTube video announcing he would be stepping away from full time competition in 2023. “ This was about an experience, not about results, and the relationships I have formed. I don’t want to enter another full season if I can’t give it my all, but I would love to go back and do it again.”
Scaling back in 2023 will still keep Johnson busy. This is a smart decision for Johnson in various ways. He’s had amazing support from sponsor Carvana and Chip Ganassi Racing, but why risk an injury on a road course that could derail your shot at racing in the Indianapolis 500 or other bucket list events? He injured his wrist in an accident at Long Beach prior to this year's Indy 500. Johnson mentioned he didn’t know what the future would like for him, but a list of 10 bucket list races could be on the slate for 2023. Those races haven’t been named, but as IndyCar fans, we can all hope that a second start in the Indianapolis 500 is on the list. I would be shocked if he was back in an IndyCar on a road or street course, but the Indianapolis 500, Daytona 500 and maybe even the double on Memorial Day could be on that list. Running the Indy 500 and Coke 600 on the same day would be a huge accomplishment only a few drivers have even attempted. I look forward to seeing Johnson continue to compete in 2023.
With the #48 car no longer a full time entry on the IndyCar grid, that could open up a door for Indy Lights champ Linus Lundqvist to move to IndyCar in 2023. During the season, Chip Ganassi moved his developmental driver Kyffin Simpson to HMD Motorsports in Indy Lights. Could there be more of a partnership in the works between the two sides to put Lundqvist in the car that Johnson doesn’t compete with? Maybe that Honda engine ends up with Dale Coyne/HMD Motorsports as a full time entry to the paddock next season. Those answers are still yet to come in the offseason.
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