ST. PETERSBURG, Fla — Jimmie Johnson knew he’d likely be a full time, part time driver in 2021. The goal was to run every road/street course race in the NTT INDYCAR Series next season. When the schedule was released earlier this month, 17 races were on it – 13 of those being on road/street courses.
That’s not necessarily part time. That’s damn near a full slate. Johnson, put to bed the questions on if he will do a full season in 2021 on Saturday saying that it’s just the 13 scheduled races. He’s open to maybe the Indy 500, but nothing more than that at least next year.
The thing is, if he was going to race 13 races next year, he needed two things – a team and a sponsor.
The team part was taken care of earlier. Chip Ganassi Racing snagged him. The sponsorship part was a work in progress.
That’s now a done deal too.
Leading online auto retailer Carvana announced today it will be the primary partner for the 7-time NASCAR Cup Series (NCS) Champion and Chip Ganassi Racing (CGR) for the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES racing season in the newly-formed Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing entry.
Johnson co-holds the NCS record with Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty for most premier series championships and is the only driver to win five consecutive titles (2006-2010). Johnson’s 83 career wins is tied with Cale Yarborough for sixth all-time and is tops among active drivers. With an impressive record any athlete would envy, Johnson saw his next challenge in INDYCAR, and recently announced his plans to race with CGR in his continued pursuit of excellence.
“Jimmie Johnson has already made his mark as one of the best NASCAR drivers in history, yet he’s continuing to push himself with a new challenge,” said Carvana Chief Brand Officer Ryan Keeton. “He’s not resting, but raising the bar, and that’s a mindset we can very much relate to. We’re looking forward to that shared challenger mindset, teamed up with Chip Ganassi Racing, for what is sure to be a fun, exciting racing season.”
Ahead of the upcoming season, Johnson is scheduled to participate in tests with CGR in the No. 48 Carvana Honda at Barber Motorsports Park and Laguna Seca in November. Johnson’s new paint scheme will be unveiled prior to the start of the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season where he is scheduled to compete in the full road and street course calendar.
“It was important to me,” Johnson said about keeping the 48 number with him to INDYCAR. “I was talking with Jay Frye probably two years ago, maybe a year and a half ago, I don’t know. It’s been very important to me. I was hopeful that I could hang on to the car number, get the car number. Another team had it. With my interest in the conversations I had, Jay was able to pull it aside and save it for me.
“I don’t know, I’ve spent so much time with the number, it was important to me. Thankfully Chip was onboard with it. We converted it to the CGR fonts, and the 48 will be on the car.”
Johnson, 45, will be an old rookie. But, he feels fresh and like he did in his old Busch Series days as a young NASCAR driver too.
“Yeah, I really do,” Johnson said if this takes him back to his early NASCAR days now. “I can think back to some other key moments where opportunity came along for me. It’s very familiar. It’s crazy to be 45 years old and going through this again. Looking at next year, realizing I’m a 45-year-old rookie in the INDYCAR Series is also an interesting one.
“I feel like it’s day one in my excitement to compete, my desire to be competitive is as strong as it’s ever been.”
This is a dream come true for Johnson. See, he grew up idoling Rick Mears. He’s drive up from his home near San Diego to watch the cars scream by him in Long Beach by a fence. His path though, took him to NASCAR. Now that his NASCAR chapter is over, he finally has a chance to give INDYCAR a try.
“Carvana is a young, tech-forward, smart and aggressive company and is the perfect partner for this next challenge in my career,” said Johnson, who will be competing for 2021 INDYCAR Rookie of the Year. “I’ve dreamed of racing in INDYCAR since I was a little kid. Going from one championship organization to another with CGR, you know the resources, including great people, are going to be there. To have friends like Scott (Dixon), Dario (Franchitti) and Doug (Duchardt) there to lean on and learn from just makes this transition so much better. 2021 is going to be a lot of fun!”
Chip Ganassi is thrilled for this partnership to begin too.
“I think this is a perfect fit for our organization – Carvana is a very exciting technology company that is always continuing to challenge themselves to be the best they can be,” said Team Owner Chip Ganassi. “Like us, they value innovation – and when you add it all up, we seem to have a lot in common, which is why I think this relationship can really grow and be successful. You all know Jimmie and his accomplishments. Jimmie is a champion and a winner and will bring tremendous value to our organization. I think we’re going to learn as much from him and his approach as he is going to learn about INDYCAR racing. It will only move the team in a positive direction.”
Ganassi also notes that having a guy like Johnson come in can truly propel this organization even further up the grid too.
“I can say this is my experience. My experience is this guy shows up, he was here at 7:30 this morning in St. Petersburg. Didn’t you stay in Charlotte last night?” Ganassi said to Johnson. “He flew in this morning and he was here at 7:30 from Charlotte. He’s on the phone, on the computer, in front of the data, looking at data all the time.
“It became very apparent very quickly why this guy’s a champion. It’s such a breath of fresh air to have a guy like that come in the door who’s going to push us. I think that’s great. It’s rare that you have a new driver come in. We usually push them. It’s a nice thing. It’s a very nice thing. My team is excited.”
Johnson, notes that while 2021 will be difficult in terms of the learning curve, but they’re here to win races too. He feels like the capabilities are there with this team.
“I think everybody involved wants to be competitive,” said Johnson. “We’re here to win races. That’s who we are as a group. If we didn’t have that common goal, we wouldn’t be here today making this announcement.
“But we all do recognize I have a very steep learning curve ahead of myself with new cars, tracks, people. I think it’s going to be a very steep learning curve for me to deal with. But I love a good challenge. I’m really excited to start this next chapter of my motorsports career.”