IndyCar just got a hell of a lot more interesting. Jimmie Johnson and Chip Ganassi Racing finalized a contract to allow Johnson to race in the NTT IndyCar series for the 2021 and 2022 seasons.
The ol’ 7-Time still needs a race sponsor to finalize his livery. But, with all those NASCAR championships under his belt and eight months left to the start of next season, finding a sponsor won’t be an issue for the 44-year-old driver.
However, Johnson may have an issue with the different vehicles and racing styles in the two leagues. He’ll be transitioning from a V-8 closed-body stock car into an open-wheeled turbo-charged V-6 that weighs about half as much as the cars he’s used to. The majority of NASCAR cup races are at speedway ovals, with a couple of road courses mixed in. IndyCar is the opposite. IndyCar primarily holds races on road courses and street circuit tracks. It mixes in a few speedway ovals as well. So, Jimmy better get used to right turns.
For a fan that’s new to racing, this might sound like Michael Jordan’s transition from basketball to baseball. But, I fully expect Johnson to do well in his new role. He’s a class act and a smart driver. Plus, if you look at the history of drivers crossing over disciplines, he’s in great company.
Tony Stewart won the 1997 IndyCar championship before going on to win three NASCAR cup series championships in his career. He’s the only driver to have won championships in both series. There’s a chance that Jimmie Johnson could become the second.
3-time IndyCar champion Sam Hornish Jr. and 2005 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Danica Patrick both transitioned from IndyCar to NASCAR. But, neither driver could replicate their IndyCar success in stock-car racing. The money is better in NASCAR, but the racing is much harder. For a champion like Johnson, this could give him an advantage.
Racing with your teammates is hugely beneficial in IndyCar. NASCAR veteran Kurt Busch raced in the 2014 Indy 500 for Andretti Autosport and finished 6th. The four Andretti Autosport drivers to finish the race came in 1st, 3rd, 4th and 6th. With Chip Ganassi Racing, Johnson will be working alongside one of the best in the business in Scott Dixon. Dixon is a 5-time IndyCar series champion and has already expressed his interest in working with Johnson next year.
When the green flag waves for his first IndyCar race, Johnson will join a pantheon of versatile drivers including Juan Pablo Montoya, Robby Gordon and both John and Mario Andretti. Mario even spoke out this week and said he believes Johnson will be right at home in an IndyCar.
In a late-July interview with NBC’s Leigh Diffey and Townsend Bell, Johnson admitted he’s had some trouble with braking zones and the exit of corners while test-driving for IndyCar. But, he’s excited for this new challenge and expects himself to succeed in the NTT IndyCar series.
I expect Johnson to succeed as well and can’t wait to see him step into his new role next season.