Jimmie Johnson isn’t racing full-time but says “my options are open”

By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer

Jimmie Johnson has viewed his post-NASCAR career as one in which he could pick and choose what he races.

His next decision could include a return to NASCAR for a race or two.

The seven-time Cup champion announced Monday that he wouldn’t return to full-time IndyCar racing in 2023 and expressed interest in a part-time racing schedule that could include an Indy 500-Coke 600 double on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend.

Johnson said Tuesday that because he just made this decision, he hasn’t had any extensive talks with NASCAR teams about plans for next year.

NASCAR organizations are limited to a maximum of four cars, so that most likely means Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing wouldn’t be possible. Any other team would be, and the one that makes the most sense is Trackhouse Racing, which plans to operate a part-time third car — known as Project91 — with drivers who could generate interest internationally.

Jimmie Johnson on his interest in Coke 600-Indy 500 double

Jimmie Johnson announced Monday that he won’t race full time in 2023 and expressed some interest in an Indy 500-Coke 600 double.

Johnson would be one of those drivers, and both Johnson and Trackhouse owner Justin Marks have California roots. In fact, in 2021, Marks bought the NASCAR operation of Chip Ganassi, who owns the IndyCar team Johnson has driven with for the past two years and would hope to drive for again if he does compete in any IndyCar races.

“Justin, he’s been a longtime friend and somebody that I stay in touch with, and he’s certainly made it known that the Project91 car is available if I have interest, so I would need to continue those conversations forward,” Johnson said.

While he drove for Chevrolet throughout his NASCAR career and Honda in IndyCar, Johnson has no manufacturer obligations at the moment.

“I’m currently not under a contract with Honda or with Chevrolet,” he said. “So I do feel like my options are open.”

Johnson mentioned Tuesday that he should have eligibility as a past Cup champion to compete in NASCAR’s two exhibition races: the Clash and the All-Star Race. The eligibility rules for those events often are adjusted year-to-year. Last year’s All-Star Race required drivers to be current full-timers, though if Johnson expressed interest early enough, it wouldn’t be a surprise for NASCAR to tweak the rules to find a way to get him in.

After Johnson “retired” from NASCAR in 2020, he opted to run only road courses in IndyCar in 2021 because of concerns over safety issues on ovals. IndyCar’s development of its aeroscreen to protect the driver was part of the reason he opted for a full IndyCar schedule in 2022.

The 47-year-old Johnson said he has heard driver comments about the safety of the Next Gen car, but that won’t keep him from racing one.

“I’ve certainly been paying close attention to NASCAR and see the comments from the drivers,” Johnson said. “I know that safety is the highest priority for NASCAR. And I would imagine that they are actively working on some solutions to help with these rear impacts and such.

“But I’m not coming from an educated point of view. I don’t have any big concerns looking ahead, and if there was an opportunity to come along, I feel that both cars [in IndyCar and NASCAR] are really in a safety window that I’m willing to drive.”

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.

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