Jimmie Johnson says Carvana will back him in 2023, to decide on IndyCar, IMSA, Le Mans
SALINAS, Calif – Sunday’s IndyCar season-finale at Laguna Seca could be the final open-wheel race of Jimmie Johnson’s illustrious career – or he might pursue a second full season with Chip Ganassi Racing. Perhaps 2023 will involve an oval-only program – or just the Indianapolis 500.
Just over a week from his 47th birthday, Johnson received the news that Carvana, his primary IndyCar sponsor the last two years, will return in 2023 to support him “in whatever I choose to do.” That could be IndyCar, IMSA, at Le Mans, other racing series, or, most likely, some pared down combination than this year.
“My journey, especially with IndyCar, has always been to have the season finish and take some time to figure out what I really want to do,” Johnson told reporters Friday morning ahead of opening practice of the IndyCar finale weekend. “I feel very good to have this news and know that they see value in what I provide, what Chip Ganassi Racing provides, as well as (IndyCar).
“Now, it’s time to go home and really look inside myself and figure out what my goals are personally and professionally and spend some time talking with the girls about it and make some decision.”
When asked whether it was a formality he’d be in IndyCar in some form in 2023, Johnson said no decision has been made, beyond Ganassi being in the loop and supportive of whatever position Johnson lands.
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He also said there are no financial constraints or limits from Carvana.
“Fortunately, I don’t feel any pressure from CGR or Carvana (to make a decision). Everything, any option is on the table right now," Johnson said. “(My family) has some personal goals, too. We’d love to live abroad for a year. There’s so many elements that play into this. Equal to the professional opportunities I have in ’23, I want to look at the personal opportunities I have for me and my family, and I just need to get that all organized.”
This is no different than how Johnson approached his previous two falls. In September 2020 – two years ago to the day Friday – Johnson and CGR announced the decorated stock car driver had inked a two-year deal for an IndyCar ride with a path yet to be determined. Six weeks later, at the finale in St. Pete, he unveiled Carvana coming on board to support a road and street course-only program.
Shortly after the end of his rookie campaign, Johnson underwent an initial test on IMS’s 2.5-mile oval in October with fellow rookie Romain Grosjean to help decide whether he’d add the 500, as well as the rest of the ovals, to his 2022 schedule.
In mid-December, he formally announced his plans to go full-time in the No. 48 Honda in 2022 -- including the 106th running of the Indianapolis 500. Since that September 2020 release, it was always known he’d be met with a major decision this fall.
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For weeks he’s said that it was his ultimate desire to return to IndyCar full-time in 2023. Whether his change in public position represents an actual mindset change or simply the desire not to get ahead of Ganassi’s announced plans isn’t clear.
“The NASCAR side was a different animal because there really was some closure there," Johnson said. "I really am looking still at every option for next year. My Cup career was so career-focused, but this has been a different journey for me. It’s been about the experience and, to steal the tagline from Carvana, about ‘no finish lines.’ When I just wanted to run street and road courses (in IndyCar), they said, ‘Cool, we’ve got your back.’ And when I said, ‘Hey, guys, I want to go full-time,’ it was, ‘Okay, we’re there.’ And at the same time, I know they’d love to see me dabble in other forms of motorsports. I know whatever my heart is into, I have their support.”
Part of that includes the potential to participate in Hendrick and Chevy’s Garage 56 project at Le Mans. The group will bring a modified version of the Next Gen Chevy Camaro ZL1 race car in a program run by Johnson’s former Cup crew chief Chad Knaus to celebrate Bill France Sr.’s initial delivery of stock cars to the race nearly a half-century ago.
Johnson has long stated his fascination in being one of the projects’ drivers for the race – none of which have been announced yet.
Part of the uncertainty on Johnson’s part about his 2023 schedule is whether IndyCar’s Detroit Grand Prix will conflict with the early practice for Le Mans or the entire endurance race weekend. IndyCar’s schedule for next season is expected to be announced within the next couple weeks and Johnson will have a clear picture of what’s possible.
What’s clear to Johnson now, is his need to pare down his race schedule. In less than nine months, Johnson will have run 17 IndyCar races. He’s jetted to Indianapolis to run a 3- to 4-hour simulation session in Honda’s sim setup then headed to wherever the race was. He’s also had four IndyCar test days and his sportscar responsibilities will have included three IMSA endurance rounds, the test weekend for the 24 Hours of Daytona and three sim sessions with the DPi car.
He also competed in the Race of Champions (and represented the U.S.) with Colton Herta in February, a weekend where he learned and then competed in rally-style racing on an ice- and snow-covered course in Sweden, just 60 miles south of the Arctic Circle.
“I’ve been on the record saying that this year has been more of a time commitment on a full-time schedule basis than I expected,” Johnson said.