AVONDALE, Ariz. – Though the advice and support could eventually end their partnership, Jimmie Johnson credits Chip Ganassi as the main reason he enters NASCAR ownership — and possibly leave IndyCar.
After two seasons with the #48 Dallara-Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing, a new minority stake in Petty GMS will make Cup Series stock cars a priority for Johnson in 2023. He learned to appreciate the opportunity to become a team owner when Ganassi brought him behind the scenes for a role that was “never out of the question” for the seven-time Cup champion.
This has long been a reality for Ganassi, whose teams have claimed 21 championships (14 in IndyCar) and 240 victories (including five at the Indy 500 and eight at the Rolex 24 at Daytona) in the 32 years since he ended a short driving career .
“Chip Ganassi hinted that’s how he started out (he said, ‘Look, I went from driving to team ownership,'” Johnson told a small group of reporters after a news conference at Phoenix Raceway on Friday. “He was really helpful for me in my process of bringing partners into the sport and being in IndyCar and he was very kind to show me behind the scenes what is happening and how things work I know Mr. Hendrick is always that for me available (while driving for Hendrick Motorsports from 2022-20) but I was never interested. I was too busy driving and focused on that. In recent years I’ve become more interested in the business side. I’ve Grown a lot there and helped from many areas and certainly from Chip.”
The growth could take Johnson away from Ganassi — and perhaps IndyCar in general — next year for a number of reasons. Although Johnson wants to drive IndyCar next season (his original plan was eight to 10 races, including the Indy 500), his new part-time schedule at NASCAR will create some obstacles.
Petty GMS is a Chevrolet affiliated team causing a manufacturer conflict with going back to Ganassi in a Honda. Johnson said he has yet to speak to any IndyCar teams or investigate the potential manufacturer dilemma (“Haven’t crossed that bridge yet.”) Almost all of the competitive Chevrolet teams at IndyCar (Team Penske, Arrow McLaren SP and Ed Carpenter Racing) have indicated that they are unlikely to add a car for the Brickyard.
Though Johnson wanted to race the Indy 500-Coke 600 doubleheader, he also wants to race the 2023 All-Star race at North Wilkesboro Speedway — which would conflict with the Indy 500 qualifying weekend.
Even if he wanted to drive for Ganassi, the team is still trying to determine who will replace Johnson in his fourth entry. The No. 48 went full-time last year after a partial schedule of road and street courses in 2021.
While hammering out the deal to join forces with Maury Gallagher and Richard Petty, Johnson said he was in regular contact with Ganassi.
“I’ve kept Chip updated,” Johnson said. “Of course we hope that there will be some kind of IndyCar commitment for me. That’s still a big goal for me. Chip tries to figure out what makes sense for the four full-time cars and if there will be a fifth car at Indy. Coupled with that he has a WEC program that he’s trying to start and bring people to Europe with cars and equipment so he’s been very busy. We chatted a few times. He knows what’s going on and we’re both still interested in having me in one of his Indy cars. There is still a lot to be clarified, including of course the manufacturer’s piece.
“I can’t express how cool it was working for him and when I had the idea how supportive he was. And during the two years that I was at IndyCar and then when I was trying to make my decision again, how much he supported me in being me. Make me. Whatever I want to do When that opportunity arose, he was absolutely the same. Same tone, same experience. When I called him a day or two ago with the official news (about NASCAR) he was so happy. Just really happy for me.”
Johnson and his business team brokered the Carvana sponsorship, which funded the majority of its racing with Ganassi. Ahead of the IndyCar season finale, Johnson said Carvana “gave the green light if I wanted to return to full-time IndyCar racing.” After initially hinting that he would sponsor several series, Johnson said interest from NASCAR teams “really took off” after the IndyCar season.
Johnson said he is “very optimistic” that Carvana will continue with him in NASCAR (probably starting at the Daytona 500). He also remains interested in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and driving the next generation at the 24 Hours of Le Mans (“I made sure my calendar is nice and open in June”).
He’s also had invites from old pals 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 was too busy fleshing out his NASCAR deal to sift through all the options — or understand how some might be impossible now.
“I’ve been solely focused on that and I don’t know what the impact of that commitment and that relationship is and what the impact is,” he said. “But once the dust settles from here I will dig deeper into these other conversations and try to create the best race plan I can have that fits the new commitment and commitment that I have here.”
Jimmie Johnson credits Chip Ganassi with suggesting he become a NASCAR owner originally appeared on NBCSports.com