Jimmie Johnson’s Latest Decision Confirms the Integrity of the 7-Time NASCAR Cup Series Champ

Article Highlights:

  • Jimmie Johnson moved over to IndyCar last season after a NASCAR Cup Series career including seven championships
  • Johnson’s rookie season in IndyCar didn’t produce any finishes in the top 15
  • The veteran driver will compete in all 17 races, including the Indianapolis 500, in 2022

After a rookie IndyCar season in which he competed only on street and road courses, Jimmie Johnson undoubtedly heard how he needed to commit or move on.

Well, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has made his decision, and it hopefully turns out to be the right one. Motorsports fans will be watching more closely than ever next season, and it’s time to produce.

Jimmie Johnson is committing to drive a full IndyCar season

Drivers in the various motorsports series have been firming up plans for next season, making December a busy month for announcements. Jimmie Johnson was the latest in the IndyCar series to do so, and he says the plan is to immerse himself more deeply in the continent’s top open-wheel series.

Johnson retired from the NASCAR Cup Series in 2020 after his third straight winless season. Rather than step away from the sport completely, the seven-time Cup Series champion spent the 2021 season in a mix of IndyCar and WeatherTech Sportscar Championship competition without running a full schedule in either.

That will change in 2022. Though Johnson hasn’t said what his plans are for the WeatherTech series, he went on NBC’s Today this week to say he’ll run a full IndyCar schedule.

“I’m really excited about this next chapter of my career and competing in the No. 48 with Carvana for the 2022 season,” he told the Indianapolis Star. “The safety of these cars has come so far, and after I tested the ovals at Texas and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I realized this was a challenge I wanted to undertake.”

Jimmie Johnson could have settled for just the Indianapolis 500

Jimmie Johnson prepares to drive during practice for the NTT IndyCar Series Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Aug. 13, 2021. | Sean Gardner/Getty Images

The safety factor is why Jimmie Johnson did not compete in IndyCar’s races on ovals in his rookie season. While it’s true that nearly all of his 194,000 NASCAR Cup Series laps were on ovals, there’s a world of difference between how stock cars and open-wheel cars handle and perform.

There were only four races on ovals last season, and there will be five in 2022. The jewel of the series has always been the Indianapolis 500, which Johnson witnessed up close for the first time last season while doing TV commentary.

“Being a part of the broadcast really cemented my desire to be in the 500,” Johnson said in the Today interview. “It was my first time attending the race

and I had massive ‘FOMO’ (fear of missing out) in watching the event take place.”

Still, Johnson deserves some credit for committing to the full 17-race schedule. Even some of the huge names in the sport cherry-pick when it comes to setting their schedules but always include the Indianapolis 500. Helio Castroneves hasn’t run a full IndyCar schedule since 2017 and appeared in just six races last season. One was his victory at Indy.

As a long shot to make much of an impact at Indy, Johnson easily could have placed his emphasis on Indy and skipped the other four races on ovals. To his credit, he’ll fully immerse himself in the sport this time and not just pick his spots.

There is a lot of work required to get ready

Jimmie Johnson’s rookie season in IndyCar may have been commendable for a 45-year-old driver, but the former NASCAR star was hardly competitive. His body of work points to a need for a lot more time behind the wheel.

Johnson raced 12 times and finished 10 of them (one crash, one mechanical failure). His best results were a pair of 17th-place showings in the final two races, at Laguna Seca and Long Beach, and he finally finished on the lead lap in three of his final four times out.

Still, the Jimmie Johnson brand is powerful enough that Carvana is once again sponsoring the No. 48 Chip Ganassi Honda.

 “Last season was so incredible for me, and I made a lot of progress, so I know I can be competitive on tracks that I have experience on, Johnson said in a statement. “I can’t wait to be part of the Indianapolis 500. It’s a childhood dream come true.”

Now, it’s a matter of whether he still has some of that NASCAR magic in him.

All stats courtesy of Racing Reference.

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