CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson is retiring from full-time racing and will turn his focus toward spending time with family.
He figures his future schedule will include no more than 10 bucket list events, but the 47-year-old had no idea Monday what that schedule will look like.
Johnson told The Associated Press he was excited to announce “I’ve got a blank sheet of paper, and we can now see what opportunities exist and start making a calendar.” Sponsor Carvana has already told Johnson it will back whatever racing he pursues.
Johnson took two weeks from the IndyCar finale — with a weekend spent in England with Ganassi teammates Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti at the Goodwood Festival of Speed — before finalizing his decision to scale back. He told the AP he didn’t really need the time to ponder his future.
“It’s been an interesting process to feel so fulfilled with the experience and then also try to make a decision,” Johnson said. “In the big scheme of things, there is so much life planning going on with the kids. We’ve always had an idea of trying to live abroad for a year or two. We love Colorado and want to spend more time there, and there’s just so much swirling personally and professionally that I just wanted to take some time and make the decision not on the back of a positive or negative experience on the racetrack.”
So what is Johnson, who retired from NASCAR in 2020, thinking?
The 24 Hours of Le Mans would be part of the NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports special “Garage 56” entry. Johnson has said from the start he wants to be part of the three-driver Le Mans lineup, even though its an exhibition for the Next Gen and the car will be alone in its class.
He’d been awaiting the 2023 IndyCar schedule to see if he’d even be available, but will ensure his schedule is clear should NASCAR want its future Hall of Famer to be part of the project.
Johnson for sure won’t 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 now isn’t even sure if he’ll run IndyCar at all.
“We are fully supportive of Jimmie. He has been a valued member of our team and if we can find a way to continue working together, we would like to do so,” said team owner Ganassi.
Johnson struggled on the street and road courses over 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 although he ultimately crashed out of his Indianapolis 500 debut, Johnson turned laps at over 240 mph in a dazzling qualifying performance.
“I do have a desire to go back, it’s just at this point, I know what’s required to do a full schedule, and I don’t have that in me,” Johnson told AP. “I don’t have that passion that I need for myself to commit myself to a full season.”
Johnson has said since his 2020 NASCAR retirement that he’d race again in the series in 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, two-state odyssey in 2014. Busch fell 200 miles shy of completing it when his engine failed in the NASCAR closer. Tony Stewart, who twice attempted both races, is the only driver to complete all 1,100 miles. John Andretti and Robby Gordon both made attempts before Busch.
Johnson would like to give it a try: He won the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway four times, including three consecutive victories from 2003-2005.
“You know me and endurance sports, and the double sounds awesome,” Johnson told AP. “I’ve always had this respect for the guys who have done the double. I would say it is more of a respect thing than a bucket-list item, and I’d love to put some energy into that idea and see if I can pull it off.”
The other NASCAR event that’s caught his attention? 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’s got an exemption into both the All-Star race and the exhibition season-opening Clash at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
The future in sports car racing is an unknown for Johnson after this weekend’s IMSA season-ending Petit Le Mans. He’s spent the past two seasons running the endurance races in a joint entry with Hendrick and Action Express, but does not expect enough inventory next year when IMSA adopts new cars for Johnson’s project to continue.
He told AP 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 his wife, Chani Johnson, have explored enrolling their girls in school in either England or France for a year for the experience, and as a hands-on father, Johnson takes an active role in shuttling his daughters to and from their full schedule of sports and activities. Chani Johnson is also a successful owner of an art gallery and is looking to expand her businesses.
“Chani has always supported me to the nth degree and also at the same time had her objectives, desires and pursued her pathway and her career. I think she’s optimistically cautious I follow through with this plan,” Johnson told AP. “But these decisions are based around family needs and demands, and I think it gets tricky and a bit more complicated on my schedule if we can some traction on travel and living abroad.
“But those are decisions that will come about in the next few months. And so I go into this I would say with no regrets. I look back and definitely learned lessons from what’s happened, good and bad. But I don’t have any pit in my stomach of something left unfinished, or any regrets I might have.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism