Jimmie Johnson’s First Month as a Rookie Team Owner Has Been a Disaster, And Don’t Expect a Quick Fix
When it was announced on the final weekend of the 2022 NASCAR season that seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson had assumed an ownership stake in Petty GMS, the news justifiably drew a lot of attention.
After all, pairing NASCAR’s only two living seven-time Cup champions — Johnson and Richard Petty — as co-owners of the two-car organization alongside majority owner Maury Gallagher Jr. seemed like a potential recipe for quick success in 2023 and more success in the years to come.
But Johnson, who’s making cameo starts in a third car for the newly rebranded Legacy Motor Club organization in addition to his executive role, is undoubtedly discovering that being the co-owner of a small team in NASCAR’s premier series may not be all it was cracked up to be.
Legacy Motor Club has struggled mightily since Jimmie Johnson has taken the reins
Although the announcement of Jimmie Johnson’s entry into the Cup Series ownership ranks was initially greeted with much excitement from all corners of the NASCAR world, it hasn’t taken long at all for reality to set in.
The reality that Johnson and Legacy Motor Club face is that the organization simply isn’t very good right now.
If the old basketball and football adage is indeed true and “you are what your record says you are,” then Legacy Motor Club is darn near close to the bottom of the stack in NASCAR’s top division. In fact, depending on which metric or metrics you use to gauge outcomes, the Statesville, North Carolina-based organization might be all the way at the bottom.
Three races into the Cup Series season, Legacy Motor Club’s two full-time drivers — Erik Jones and rookie Noah Gragson — sit 28th and 30th in the standings, respectively, and the two don’t have a single top-15 finish between them.
The company’s best finish is 19th, where Jones has taken the checkered flag each of the past two weekends after crashing out of the Daytona 500 and limping home in 37th. Gragson, the 2022 Xfinity Series championship runner-up and wins leader with eight victories, has placed no better than 22nd in a trio of Cup outings this year.
Asked before the season began to share his biggest goal for 2023, Gragson sat the bar surprisingly low.
“Finish every lap right now — I think that’s all you really can do, realistically,” the 24-year-old said during last month’s preseason media day leading up to the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. “You obviously want to win, but I don’t know how realistic that is.”
It makes sense now why Gragson wasn’t exactly shooting for the stars. Clearly, he recognized the team’s limitations and was willing to acknowledge them even before the 2023 campaign ever began.
Now almost a month into the season, everyone else sees those limitations, too. Even if the man leading the charge is Jimmie Johnson, a seven-time Cup Series champion and one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history.
Jimmie Johnson faces no small task in getting his team pointed in the right direction
While Legacy Motor Club certainly lacks the resources of the Cup Series’ premier outfits — Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, and Team Penske — the organization actually showed some real promise last season while still competing under the banner of Petty GMS.
Erik Jones jumped six positions in the standings from Year One to Year Two with the company, and the former Joe Gibbs Racing driver, more importantly, won a race — the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway — after being shut out of Victory Lane in 2021.
But Jones currently sits 10 spots lower in the standings than he finished 2022, and first-year teammate Noah Gragson is having to adjust to life as a mid-pack or back-of-the-pack driver after crushing everyone but Ty Gibbs in his final season as a full-time Xfinity Series driver for JR Motorsports.
Jimmie Johnson has made just one of what he says could be up to 10 starts in a third team car — the No. 84 Chevrolet — but it ended with a late-race crash in the Daytona 500. Meanwhile, just a few days before the season opener and during all the busyness of Speedweeks, Richard Petty took a few minutes out of his schedule to tell reporters at Daytona that he and Johnson weren’t exactly seeing eye to eye on how Legacy Motor Club should be managed from the top down.
Petty, whose official title recently changed from co-owner to team ambassador, also revealed his belief that his fellow seven-time champion had more or less seized control of the company, leaving Petty himself with a reduced role and some hurt feelings.
“It’s been strange to me,” Petty told the Associated Press and other media outlets. “Most of the time, I ran the majority of the show. Jimmie brought all his people in. His way of running things and my way of running things are probably a little bit different. We probably agree on about 50% of what it really comes down to.”
Johnson, for his part, seemed annoyed and confused upon learning of Petty’s comments.
“He’s not expressed them to me, for starters,” Johnson told reporters at Daytona via the AP. “Honestly, there are a lot of moving pieces to this. There are business decisions that are taking place between Mr. Gallagher (Maury Gallagher, the team’s majority owner) and the Petty family before I ever arrived. Those are details that are just not my place to say.
“But a lot of what Richard is speaking to is based on business decisions that he and his family have made, and they aren’t relative to my involvement.”
Not much has been written or said since Daytona about the apparent misunderstanding between Johnson and Petty. This much is certain, though: Whether it’s trying to get on the same page with Petty or turning Legacy Motor Club from a back marker into a contender, Johnson has his work cut out for him as a new team owner.
And don’t expect him to fix it all overnight, either.