Racin’ With Jason: Jimmie Johnson’s interesting move to IndyCar

  • In this image provided by Jimmie Johnson Racing II, Inc., seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, left, listens to a crew member during IndyCar during testing with Chip Ganassi Racing on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 28 in Indianapolis. AP FILE

Published: 9/10/2020 4:05:51 PM
Modified: 9/10/2020 4:05:38 PM

I knew Jimmie Johnson had more to give to auto racing when his NASCAR Cup Series career concludes after this season.

Those inklings were proven true on Wednesday, as the seven-time Cup champion announced a two-year agreement to race in the NTT IndyCar Series with Chip Ganassi Racing. The move takes Johnson from one of NASCAR’s powerhouse teams to one of IndyCar’s elite.

“Ganassi was highly motivated to give me a chance to drive a car to see what I thought and the experience was all that I hoped for and more,” Johnson told The Associated Press. “I left a good impression with them where there’s definitely interest on their side and now it’s time to formalize things and get the ball rolling.”

It’s a bit of a gamble to take on someone who turns 45 next week, whose open-wheel pedigree is limited to only a recent test with Ganassi at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But it’s a gamble that could pay off for all parties — especially the IndyCar Series.

Not since Danica Patrick has IndyCar had someone who could attract viewers and sponsors to the series. Johnson and Ganassi are saying all the right things that the deal is contingent on finding sponsorship, but I don’t think it will be that hard. Perhaps Ally, which has supported Johnson in NASCAR the last couple years, will shift its money into IndyCar. Or one of Ganassi’s other sponsors will back the NASCAR veteran.

“We have some options that are interested in taking those primary rights for all 12 races, but there could be a scenario where you break it off into three-to-four race blocs for sponsors in areas that are most important for them,” Johnson told the AP. “But our goal is definitely to sell the primary spot to one and have that consistent look that I’ve had throughout my career. I personally would love to continue that.”

Going with Ganassi is the best move Johnson can make to test his mettle in IndyCar. He will be teammates with Scott Dixon, who is Johnson’s IndyCar equivalent in terms of success with five championships. It’s a scenario similar to how the young drivers at Hendrick Motorsports — Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman and William Byron — have benefited from Johnson’s tutelage over the last few years. Ganassi also offers Johnson a chance to drive selected NASCAR races if he so chooses, given that CGR only fields a two-car team.

“To pair Jimmie with the likes of Scott Dixon is quite an opportunity. They are truly in rarified air and I think everyone knows by now that I like winners,” Ganassi said. “The goal right now is for us to run Jimmie in an Indy car for at least the next couple of seasons, and we want to show people we’re serious about the program. We felt it was important to get the partnership done and start putting the financial building blocks in place to make this a reality.”

The switch to IndyCar removes the possibility of Johnson returning for another Cup Series season in order to have a proper sendoff. The COVID-19 situation has prevented Johnson from running at a lot of tracks with fans in attendance to be able to share one last moment. While the tracks have all paid their own tribute, the fans have been left out of the picture in most cases.

The thing that will take the most getting used to is seeing Johnson in something other than a Chevrolet. Ganassi uses Honda engines, and Johnson needed special permission from Chevy to make the switch. It would be like seeing an Earnhardt in a Toyota.

I was once an avid IndyCar fan, but I have slacked off in recent years. I haven’t been a Johnson fan, but over the past few years I’ve warmed up to him. This move piques my interest even more than when Juan Pablo Montoya switched from NASCAR to IndyCar. The difference is Montoya had previous Formula One and IndyCar experience.

It will give people something to root for or against. Personally, I want Johnson to succeed. It’s a tough switch to make at 45, but if anyone can do it, it’s the man whose video game was called “Anything with an Engine.” There may be some who want Johnson to fail, to prove some sort of point that his success in NASCAR was due to his team rather than his talent, but that’s petty at best.

So congratulations, Jimmie, on your memorable NASCAR career and good luck on your new venture!

MONADNOCK RESULTS: Two Franklin County drivers earned top-three finishes in their respective features last Saturday at Monadnock Speedway in Winchester, N.H. Deerfield’s Ben Byrne was third in the second of two NHSTRA Modified races, while Greenfield’s Jimmy Zellmann took third in the Pure Stocks.

It was a good night for Modified points leader Brian Robie, as he won the first Battle for the Cup 35-lap feature and was second in the nightcap. Coupled with Byrne’s fifth-place showing in the opener, Robie extended his points lead to 70 over second-place Byrne. Matt Kimball was victorious in the second race.

Two drivers who have dominated all season continued their runs, as Aaron Fellows again triumphed in Late Model Sportsmen, while Gordon Farnum grabbed the checkered flag in Mini Stocks.

In the Late Models, Orange’s Cole and Justin Littlewood placed fourth and fifth, respectively. Greenfield’s Scott Beck was ninth.

In Mini Stocks, Orange’s Kevin McKnight came in sixth, Sunderland’s Jake Puchalski 11th and Bernardston’s Shelby Avery 15th.

Northfield’s Mike Douglas came home a disappointing fifth in the Pure Stocks, although he retained his points lead by 40 over Chris Davis, who continued his recent run of winning. Zellmann is third behind Davis. Turners Falls’ JD Stockwell was 13th and is tied for fourth in points.

Last Saturday was a night off for the Street Stock division.

Doug Meservey Jr. led the whole way in the Pro-4 Modified 30-lapper, with Al Reiser topping the Pro-4 Lites class. The Senior Tour Auto Racing events saw Richard Eastman (Sportsman) and Curt Snow (Modifieds) pick up wins.

Saturday is the first of the final three race nights of the season.

Jason Remillard is a copy editor and page designer at the Recorder. He can be reached at jremillard@recorder.com and followed on Twitter @racinwithjason.




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