During his time on the motorsports circuit, Jimmie Johnson has had no shortage of success. The California-native, however, decided to take on a new challenge in 2021. After more than 20 years in NASCAR, he’s trying his hand at IndyCar racing.
Although it might seem easy to transition between the two from afar—you don’t have to relearn how to drive every time you lease a new car—finding success in IndyCar is easier said than done. In fact, even Johnson himself admits that winning a race during the 2021 campaign is probably an unrealistic goal.
Jimmie Johnson has won plenty of races during his decorated career
When you think of Jimmie Johnson, you probably picture him winning races in NASCAR’s Cup Series. The driver’s success, however, hasn’t been limited to the stock car circuit.
Johnson started racing as a child and cut his teeth on motorcycles; he even won his first-ever championship thanks to a specially modified bike, which allowed him to compete with a broken leg. He later moved onto off-road racing and, despite a potentially fatal accident, continued to find success.
In 1997, Johnson made the jump to stock car racing, joining the American Speed Association. Before long, he stepped up to the Busch Series and, in turn, the Cup Series. Although he initially struggled to get over the hump at the highest level of competition, that would all change after the famous mike and cookies meeting.
Once Johnson claimed his first Cup Series title, the rest was history. He claimed five championships in a row from 2006 through 2010, then reclaimed the top spot in both 2013 and 2016. Those seven wins leave him level with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most all-time.
Leaving NASCAR behind to pursue an IndyCar dream
Despite that historic level of NASCAR success, Jimmie Johnson didn’t ride off into the sunset to rest on his laurels. Rather than retiring completely, he simply swapped stock cars for Indy cars.
For all of his previous success, climbing behind the wheel of an IndyCar was a childhood dream for Johnson. He finally got the chance to make that dream a reality in 2020, when he took part in a road test with Chip Ganassi Racing. That led to a part-time deal, allowing the seven-time NASCAR champ to drive for the team on road and street courses during the 2021 and 2022 IndyCar campaigns.
Although Johnson may be living a dream, he still has to grapple with some new challenges; IndyCar racing is matter of factly different than NASCAR. In April 2021, the driver even admitted that he still can feel a bit uncomfortable when he hits the track.
Even Jimmie Johnson thinks that winning an IndyCar race in 2021 is a bit unrealistic
Given his overall wealth of racing experience, it’s easy to assume that Jimmie Johnson will find plenty of success on the IndyCar scene. While he might eventually get there, the driver is entering his first campaign with much lower expectations. In fact, he’s not even expecting to win a single race.
In a For The Win interview, Michelle R. Martinelli asked the racing veteran if winning a race was “a realistic goal” at this point. Johnson didn’t pull any punches.
“I don’t feel like it is,” he explained. “I’m not saying it can’t happen. Strategy is a big part of IndyCar racing. They only make two pit stops in most cases. So fuel strategy and execution by team and driver in the race can put you in a position to win, but I think in an all-out, shootout, heads-up race, I don’t see me being there this year.”
Johnson also added that, as of now, he’s still learning the finer points of each course and coming to grips with the quirks of IndyCar racing. Once he wraps his mind around those, however, don’t be surprised to eventually see him claim the checkered flag. After all, he’s won in just about every other form of racing that he’s tried.