CHARLOTTE, NC (AP) – Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson is retiring from full-time racing and will turn his focus to spending time with family.
He calculates his future schedule will include no more than 10 bucket list events, but the 47-year-old didn’t know Monday what that would look like in 2023.
Johnson told The Associated Press that he was happy to announce “I have a blank slate, and now we can see what opportunities there are and start making a calendar.” Carvana has already told Johnson it will support any race he takes on.
Johnson took two weeks off the IndyCar final – with a weekend spent in England with Ganassi teammates Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti at the Goodwood Revival – before finalizing his decision to scale back. He told the AP that he doesn’t really need time to think about his future.
“It was an interesting process to feel so fulfilled with the experience and then also try to make a decision,” Johnson said. “In the grand scheme of things, there is so much life planning going on with the kids. We always had the idea of trying to live abroad for a year or two. We love Colorado and want to spend more time there, and there’s so much going on personally and professionally that I just wanted to take some time and make the decision not because of a positive or negative experience on the racetrack.”
So what is Johnson who retired from NASCAR in 2020thinking?
The 24 Hours of Le Mans would be part of the NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports special “Garage 56” entry. Johnson has said from the outset that he wants to be part of the three-driver Le Mans line-up, even though it is an exhibition for the Next Gen and the car will be alone in its class.
He was waiting on the 2023 IndyCar schedule to see if he would even be available, but will make sure his schedule is clear if NASCAR wants its future Hall of Famer to be part of the project.
Johnson will definitely not return for a second full IndyCar season with Chip Ganassi Racing. He raced only the street and road courses in 2021, added the ovals to run the full 2022 season and is now not even sure if he will drive IndyCar at all.
“We fully support Jimmie. He’s been a valued member of our team and if we can find a way to continue working together, we’d like to do that,” said team owner Ganassi, who told the AP he’d like to run four cars full-time. Now that Johnson has decided not to driving a full season in the #48, Ganassi is figuring out how to keep that entry on track.
Johnson struggled on the street and road courses for two seasons, with his best performances on ovals – the discipline he dominated for nearly two decades in NASCAR. He finished an IndyCar-best fifth at Iowa, and though he ultimately crashed out of his Indianapolis 500 debut, Johnson turned laps at more than 240 mph in a dazzling qualifying performance.
“I do want to go back, it’s just at this point, I know what it takes to do a full schedule, and I don’t have it in me,” Johnson told the AP. “I don’t have that passion that I need to commit to a full season.”
Johnson has said since retiring from NASCAR in 2020 that he would race in the series again given the right opportunity, and is now entertaining the idea of doing “The Double” — the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day.
Kurt Busch was the last driver to attempt the 1,100-mile, bi-state odyssey in 2014. Busch fell 200 miles shy of completing it when his engine failed in the NASCAR closer. Tony Stewart, who has twice attempted both races, is the only driver to complete all 1,100 miles. John Andretti and Robby Gordon both made attempts ahead of Busch.
Johnson would like to try it: He’s won the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway four times, including three consecutive wins from 2003-2005.
“You know me and endurance sports, and the double sounds amazing,” Johnson told the AP. “I always had this respect for the guys who did the double. I’d say it’s more of a respect thing than a bucket list item, and I’d like to put some energy into that idea and see if I can do it.”
The other NASCAR events that caught his eye? Next year’s inaugural race through the downtown streets of Chicago and the All-Star race at North Wilkesboro. Johnson noted as a past winner, he received an exemption into both the All-Star Race and the exhibition season-opening Clash at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. However, the 2022 NASCAR rules state that a driver must compete full-time to race in the all-star race.
The future in sports car racing is unknown for Johnson after this weekend’s IMSA season-ending Petit Le Mans. He has spent the last two seasons running the endurance races in a joint entry with Hendrick and Action Express, but doesn’t expect enough inventory next year when IMSA adopts new cars for Johnson’s project to continue.
He told AP that he would consider racing in a lower IMSA category, such as LMP2, and is even curious about the six-race World Endurance Championship. But the WEC Series intrigues him because of its exotic locales – Monza, Italy, Fuji Speedway in Japan, Bahrain – and the love of international travel he shares with his wife and two young daughters.
He and Chani Johnson explored enrolling their girls in a school in either England or France for a year for the experience, and as a hands-on father, Johnson takes an active role in transporting his daughters to and from their full schedule of sports and activities. . Chani Johnson is also a successful art gallery owner and is looking to expand her businesses.
“Chani has always supported me to the nth degree and also at the same time had her goals, desires and followed her path and her career. I think she’s optimistically cautious that I’m following this plan,” Johnson told the AP. “But this those decisions are based around family needs and requirements, and I think it becomes difficult and a little more complicated in my schedule if we can get some tension on traveling and living abroad.
“But those are decisions that will happen in the next few months. And so I go into this, I would say with no regrets. I look back and I’ve certainly learned lessons from what happened, good and bad. But I have no pit in my stomach from nothing left unfinished, nor any regret I might have.” ___
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