Legacy Motor Club, Toyota Expect NASCAR Move Will Upset Some Fans
Johnson’s two-team Legacy Motor Club is dropping its Chevrolet affiliation after this season to become a Toyota organization in 2024.
The announcement came Tuesday, when Johnson, team co-owner Maury Gallagher.
Toyota Racing Development president David Wilson shocked much of the stock car world with the announcement.
Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson and Toyota Racing Development president David Wilson have been around the NASCAR block enough times to realize that optics are a big deal to fans.
Who a driver drives for is a big deal. What manufacturer a team works with is a big deal. History and tradition are big deals.
They are acutely aware that not everyone in NASCAR’s shrinking fanbase will be happy that Johnson’s two-team Legacy Motor Club is dropping its Chevrolet affiliation after this season to become a Toyota organization in 2024. The announcement came Tuesday, when Johnson, team co-owner Maury Gallagher, and Wilson shocked much of the stock car world with the announcement.
After two seasons with Chevrolet, the North Carolina-based organization will move No. 42 driver Noah Gragson and No. 43 driver Erik Jones from Camaros to Camrys. They will become the seventh and eighth full-time TRD drivers, joining Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Christopher Bell, and Ty Gibbs at Joe Gibbs Racing, and Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick at 23XI Racing.
While happy with his Toyota’s in recent years, Wilson has been on the lookout for what he called “quality cars and drivers to add to our family.” He added: “This not reactive because we knew it was coming (although not the specifics until recently). The new Next Gen car has changed the way we race, so there’s been a plan to add to our family. We’ve been incredibly fortunate to have some interest to get to where we are today.”
“But I’m not naïve any longer,” Wilson said. “I realize this will be a polarizing partnership for Jimmie Johnson fans and No. 43 fans. Some of them won’t be thrilled with this; they’ll probably feel it's sacrilegious, but I can’t worry about that.”
Johnson went right to the point: “I understand how polarizing this will be for some fans, but we have the full support of Richard Petty.”
Wilson couldn’t recall exactly when serious talks began with Gallagher and Johnson. He spoke of “a few months” and added, “It hasn’t been that long. Right from the first conversation we all had a vision of the potential. Maury and I have been garage friends for years, so maybe I had a head start with him. I think I talked about it with Jimmie at Phoenix last fall.
“The sweet spot is between eight and 10 quality teams and quality drivers. You can rest assured we’re done for the 2024 season. Maury and Jimmie are taking a chance on us, so the pressure is on us to deliver. We’re accountable any time we bring new partners into the fold. And this will not compromise our relationships with Joe Gibbs Racing and 23XI.”
Johnson called the change, “a foundational move that will put us on equal footing with Joe Gibbs Racing and 23XI Racing. This deep alignment with Toyota will help us grow for years and give us the best opportunity to be successful through the years. It’s a strategic move that will put us in great position to be competitive in 2024 and beyond. Maury and I admire and respect the level at which Toyota conducts their business, but in November I didn’t expect we’d be here today.”
Gallagher, whose Craftsman Truck Series championship seasons of 2016 and 2020 reflect his commitment to racing, wants that same level of success on the Cup side. “Some people are willing to live in the back of the pack,” he said. “I’m not willing to do that. We want to be at the top, on the (leading) edge. Toyota is a quality organization; we all know that. Chevrolet, Ford, everybody at this level of competition is good; competition burns deep.
“We want to win, and (company competition director) Mike Beam proved that over the years with 41 truck wins and two championships. Chevrolet is a fabulous partner, and we could get there (with them). But when it comes down to it, this seems to be a better move long-term. We have gone about improving ourselves in a lot of aspects to be at the top.”
Petty, like Johnson a seven-time Cup Series champion, was not part of Tuesday’s announcement or the afternoon teleconference call. With no ownership stake in LMC, his role—if any—within the Toyota-based company remains unclear. At almost 85 and no team hauler to call his own, his days in the spotlight may have come to an end.
It happened like this:
In December of 2021, Gallagher bought the majority interest in Richard Petty Motorsports and renamed it Petty GMS. The new owner named Petty to be Chairman of the Board. It fielded Chevrolets for Ty Dillon and Jones, who won the 2022 Southern 500. In November, when Johnson bought an ownership stake in Petty GMS, Petty sold his shares to Gallagher, who remains the majority owner of what is now Legacy Motor Club.
The rebranding of Petty GMS Racing to Legacy Motor Club marked the first time since 1949 that the name “Petty” has not been part of NASCAR’s top series. When Johnson arrived and took over, Petty became little more than a team ambassador and glad-hander.
In February, in Daytona Beach, an obviously disheartened Petty said Johnson was directing the team’s day-to-day operations, leaving him without any decision-making power. His tone was one of resignation and disappointment rather than anger and resentment.
“He's basically going to wind up running the show in four or five years completely,” Petty said at a pre-race media gathering. “He’ll probably be the majority owner or the owner of our operation. They’re looking at things completely differently. Jimmie and I might agree on about 50 percent of the things that are going on.”
Toyota, now into its 20th NASCAR season, has won almost 600 races across the Truck, Xfinity, and Cup series. Christopher Bell currently leads all Cup drivers in top-5 and top-10 finishes, while four Camry drivers are top-10 in points.
In NASCAR’s most recent races, Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr. won on Monday at Dover Motor Speedway for JGR and his brother, Ryan, won the Saturday afternoon Xfinity race, also in a Toyota for JGR.