NASCAR Legend Jimmie Johnson Makes One Thing Perfectly Clear: He's NOT Retiring

Photo credit: James Gilbert - Getty Images
Photo credit: James Gilbert - Getty Images
  • One day after announcing he would no longer compete full time in the NTT IndyCar Series, Jimmie Johnson brought his plans a bit more into focus.

  • One thing Johnson is NOT doing, and that’s retiring.

  • He admitted numerous headlines that came out Monday indicating he was retiring from racing were incorrect.

One day after announcing he was scaling back to competing in only select events in IndyCar—and was looking at other opportunities in racing as a whole—Jimmie Johnson brought his plans a bit more into focus during a Tuesday morning media teleconference.

Among the high points the seven-time NASCAR Cup champion is looking at, in no particular order, are:

  1. Running “The Double,” namely, the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 on the same day. The last driver to attempt the double was Kurt Busch in 2014.

  2. Running next year in Le Mans as part of the NASCAR-affiliated “Project 56” program.

  3. In addition to the Indy 500, Johnson is also considering running other select IndyCar races, including his “home race," the Long Beach Grand Prix, and potentially a combination of races on oval tracks and street or permanent road courses.

  4. Competing again in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona and perhaps a few other IMSA races if his schedule permits.

  5. He may even come back to do a few NASCAR races, with keen interest in the Busch Clash, the NASCAR All-Star Race and perhaps a few other one-offs like at North Wilkesboro Speedway.

But there’s one thing Johnson is NOT doing, and that’s retiring. He admitted numerous headlines that came out Monday indicating he was retiring from racing were incorrect.

“I saw that too and just kind of chuckled, mainly because I tried to retire once already (from NASCAR) and it didn't work out,” Johnson said with a laugh. “A second time, it’s kind of like the boy that cried wolf.

“I really don't feel like this is the end of driving for me. I feel like it's a chance to pivot and run marquee events and look for these amazing experiences that any driver would want to have. Publicly knowing I have the support from Carvana, they're still very interested and we're expecting to continue on IndyCar with me. So to be in the situation I am in. I don't think the word retirement is correct. But it’s certainly a pivot to less, so slowing down or part time. I had fun with these hats that I was wearing, it was rookie then it was full-time, now maybe it should be a part-time hat.”

Rather, Johnson still wants to keep his hand in IndyCar somewhat, as well as try other forms of racing. And having just turned 47 years old, the El Cajon, California native potentially could continue racing at his own pace for several more years to come.

“I've just recently made this decision and haven't had any time to explore options,” Johnson said. “So I feel like here in the coming weeks or month or so, I should understand and know what opportunities are out there for me.

Photo credit: Icon Sportswire - Getty Images
Photo credit: Icon Sportswire - Getty Images

“I do feel like I'm in a good place in the budget cycle for corporate dollars and for the potential to bring Carvana (his primary sponsor in IndyCar in the recently completed 2022 season, and which has said it will continue to support his racing efforts in 2023) along and or any other interested parties. So I think my timing is in a good spot and we'll just see what the coming weeks bring.”

Although Johnson said his decision to scale back from fulltime racing in IndyCar “gives me the chance to go out and speak to other teams, looking at other opportunities, other series,” it’s likely he’ll stay joined at the hip with Chip Ganassi Racing for many of his upcoming adventures, including IndyCar and IMSA.

“I’ve really only spoken to Chip,” Johnson said. “I truly feel like I'm part of the family at CGR, and if I am in an Indy car, that’s really where I want to be. I know that team, I know the inner workings of it. I do feel like we are working hard to continue the relationship together. So that that would really be my intention, if I was able to put something together and come back into IndyCar, I’d love for it to be there.”

Arguably near the top of his racing bucket list is to do The Double.

“I'm seriously considering it,” Johnson said. “When I looked at bucket list opportunities, Le Mans, a shot at winning the Rolex 24, The Double, those three are really kind of at the top of the list. It is really early in this process, and I'm not sure where it will all lead, but it is again just really high on my list of things that I still want to do and I'll start working on that now.”

Photo credit: James Gilbert - Getty Images
Photo credit: James Gilbert - Getty Images

Johnson then added, “I do feel like my rough look at it, that the potential to apply myself and have physically enough time to pull it off, I believe it's there. And I do think with the reduced schedule and not running the full IndyCar schedule will give me the time I need before and after to seriously focus and dedicate everything I can and would need to give my best performance in both races.”

In addition to the Indianapolis 500, Johnson expressed interest in doing other IndyCar events including Long Beach, races on certain oval tracks and select road courses like Laguna Seca.

“It really just depends on the opportunities that develop,” Johnson said.

And even though Johnson essentially retired from NASCAR after the 2020 season, he’s not ruling out a potential return for select events.

“I've of course maintained contacts and relationships with friends and such in the NASCAR world,” Johnson said. “I feel like after yesterday, and certainly today, my phone is going to be ringing a bit more with opportunities, and I'm looking forward to those conversations.

Photo credit: Christian Petersen - Getty Images
Photo credit: Christian Petersen - Getty Images

“I am intrigued to drive the (Next Generation) car, I've obviously spent a career in the NASCAR space and have kept a watchful eye on it. I've enjoyed my time in IndyCar and it was my childhood ambition to be an IndyCar driver and my opportunities took me to NASCAR. So to be able to have now experienced both, and have the potential to continue to experience both, I think it puts me in a really unique situation and an enviable situation amongst all racers, to be able to have a chance to operate and run in both of the premier divisions here in the U.S. So time will tell what kind of opportunities develop, but I'm really excited about pursuing this.”

As for Le Mans, Johnson admitted it’s no secret that he’s one of the favorites to be behind the wheel for the joint NASCAR-Hendrick Motorsports entry for next year’s race there, with the car based upon the new Next Generation vehicle.

“I still feel like I'm on a shortlist for the Garage 56 program in Le Mans next year and hope to get some clarity on that here in the coming weeks or months,” Johnson said. “I wish I had more to report at this point. And it's really about not returning fulltime to IndyCar. And now that that I’ve made that decision and letting that news be known, I really feel like I'll get some traction here and be able to solidify my schedule for ‘23.”

Having just turned 47 last week, Autoweek asked Johnson that now free of obligations to run full series, how long can he continue racing and also still be competitive.

“It's certainly a thought and being competitive certainly makes the experience much more fun,” Johnson said. “I loved being competitive on the ovals this year in the IndyCar Series. It's so hard to know where you are as an individual. I haven't been back in a Cup car to know where I fit or how competitive I could or might be in a Cup car.

“But when I look around at it, I think Mario Andretti won his last IndyCar race at 52. I just turned 47 the other week. So I do feel like there's time and honestly, what I'm doing now isn't result-driven. This is really about the experience. Of course I want to run well, of course I'm going to apply myself, and that's just how I operate. So I do take it very seriously. But I'm not trying to start a second career here. I'm trying to have meaningful experiences with teams and individuals that have meaning behind it, and tracks and races that are meaningful to me as well.”

Johnson put where he’s at into the best overall perspective when he added, “I really do have a clean sheet of paper in front of myself right now, and I’m eager to see what meaningful opportunities develop and make sense.”

Follow Autoweek correspondent Jerry Bonkowski on Twitter @JerryBonkowski