Hoping For an IndyCar Return

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With their financial future a little bit up in the air, I was surprised when Carvana announced earlier this month, that they have agreed to sponsor Jimmie Johnson for 2023 in whatever racing series he chooses to be involved in.

According to an excellent article by Bruce Martin in Forbes, Johnson had indicated throughout most of the 2022 IndyCar season, that it was his desire to return in 2023 as a fulltime IndyCar driver. He was just waiting to see where things stood with primary sponsor Carvana.

He got good news from Carvana, saying they would back him in whatever form of motorsports he chose for 2023. There was no mention of anything beyond next year. But when he shared the news in a media gathering over championship weekend at Laguna Seca, he was vague and noncommittal on what exactly his plans were for 2023. Johnson said he wanted to take some time, talk to his family and decide exactly what he wants to do.

If you’ve been a regular reader of this site over the last couple of years, you know that I am not a Jimmie hater. Quite honestly, I’ve never understood the mindset of those that are. I am trying to figure out what exactly there is to hate about the guy, to the point that the haters take joy every time he spins on a road course (which is often).

Some say they are sick and tired of the booth and media in general gushing over Johnson, when he really hasn’t accomplished anything in an Indy car. I’m trying to understand how this is any different than when everyone went crazy over the presence of Danica Patrick, when she came on the IndyCar scene over eighteen years ago. The only difference is that Danica had never won a race in six years of the various ladder series, while Johnson was a seven-time NASCAR Cup champion when he joined the series.

They both brought added attention to the NTT IndyCar Series, which is never a bad thing. But Johnson and Carvana do an excellent job with sponsor activation and the various Carvana TV commercials Johnson is starring in. Maybe my memory is failing (which is entirely likely), but the only racing related TV commercials I remember Danica doing were for Peak motor oil (at the time – the official motor oil of IndyCar) and a couple of really bad Go-Daddy spots.

I’m not sure if fans hold it against Johnson that he came from NASCAR, or what it is they hold against him; but there is a definite faction of people out there who despise Johnson and are happy anytime he places a wheel wrong on the track.

When Johnson was in NASCAR, I got a little tired of him winning all the time – but it was nothing against him personally. I just wanted someone else to win the championship occasionally. I think it’s human nature to grow tired of the same athlete or team winning all of the time, but when that happens – I grow a lot of respect for them.

Unlike most Colts fans, I never grew to hate the New England Patriots when they were knocking down championships with regularity, but I was glad to see some other team occasionally hoist the Lombardi Trophy. In a six-year span, Dario Franchitti went from never winning the Indianapolis 500 to being a three-time winner. In that same time period, he also won the IndyCar championship four times. Would I have welcomed someone else winning in that time frame? Absolutely. But I also realized I was witnessing greatness in the making and I never begrudged him for winning. If someone wins too much, it’s up to others to step up their game. Don’t hold it against those that are “winning too much”, if there is such a thing.

Personally, I hope Johnson and Carvana return to do the entire 2023 IndyCar season. Remember, Johnson was an IndyCar rookie on the ovals this past season – including the Indianapolis 500. He had success at Texas and Iowa, where he had an IndyCar career high of fifth. Johnson had mixed results at Indianapolis, where he was fast all month, but a bobble in qualifying put him twelfth on the grid and he crashed in the race. At Gateway, most of the Ganassi cars were not great.

Will Johnson ever be competitive on road and street courses? Probably not. There is just so much he can unlearn from stock car racing, in such a short amount of time. But obviously, more from NASCAR can transfer over to IndyCar on the ovals. With a year of IndyCar oval racing under his belt, I don’t think it’s out of the question that Johnson could win an oval in 2023.

If you don’t like NASCAR, look at it this way. One of NASCAR’s legends has taken on IndyCar and has struggled. We all remember when Dario Franchitti, Sam Hornish and Danica Patrick all went to NASCAR, and embarrassed themselves. The common theme among NASCAR fans from those failed transitions, was that NASCAR was a lot tougher than IndyCar. Now they see that one is not necessarily tougher than the other. It’s just hard to go from one discipline to the other.

That’s why I am a fan of IndyCar’s diversity. A championship that includes short ovals, super-speedways, road courses and street courses, commands a lot more respect than one that is mostly made up of ovals. A driver and team has to be good across many more types of tracks.

Jimmie Johnson will never win an IndyCar champion. But I think his presence in IndyCar is a good thing for the series. I hope he decides he and Carvana should return to IndyCar for the 2023 season.

George Phillips

7 Responses to “Hoping For an IndyCar Return”

  1. Carlos Bragatto Says:

    I really appreciate what Jimmy has done for Indycar, and also for himself. He’s very corageous in taking up this uphill battle, he knew it from the beginning, and considering his total lack of open wheel experience, I think he’s doing a bloody good job.

    As you said, on the ovals he feels at home, and it shouldn’t been weird if he actually gets to win a race on ovals.

    Kudos to him, for realising his dream of racing on Indycars, and being reasonably competitive at it.

  2. I never disliked Jimmie back in the day. What bothered me was the silly “Race For the Chase / Playoff” format NASCAR started. Take that away, and Jimmie wouldn’t have been a 7-time Cup champ like Earnhardt & Petty. Of course that’s not Johnson’s fault, but it nonetheless annoyed me. The driver with the most points at the end of a season should be the champ.

    That said, since he’s come to IndyCar I have become a fan. Not because of his on-track results obviously, but because of his approach/demeanor.

    First off, very few drivers with the type of success he had in a rival series would even attempt a different discipline. Secondly, if they did, they’d likely bail once they realized how difficult the transition was. That’s when we’d get the whole, “I decided to spend more time with my family” line.

    The humility Johnson has demonstrated during his time IndyCar is impressive. He’s made zero excuses for himself. Yes the results haven’t been there, but I respect the hell out of him. It must be so difficult, race in and race out, to watch drivers….most of whom will never experience a fraction of the career success he’s acheived, just run absolute circles around him. And yet….there he’s been, each race, learning and trying his best. That’s character.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    I believe Danica Patrick also did TV commercials for Boost Mobile. I very well remember one Boost ad where her pit crew was all dressed in revealing clothing and one member was positioned behind the car, rocking back and forth and pointing at the wing alternately with each hand. I have no idea what this guy was supposed to be doing in the staged pit stop, or how anyone directing an ad with a staged pit stop would feel the need to include this pointing guy.

    Oh yeah, Jimmie Johnson… I would be fine if he returned.

  4. Jimmy Johnson might be the only name a non race fan might know of the current Indycar series drivers? I live in central Indiana 30 miles south of the IMS. Every month of May the topic of the Indianapolis 500 will pop up at work or a social event. The non fan that has lived in the Indianapolis area all their lives will reply with, is NASCAR is racing or those F1 cars. Hy-Vee was a excellent sponsor for the Indycar series in 2022.

  5. George your timing of this article is impeccable , on day JJ steps back from full time racing. Never a hater of him personally just was put off by the hype NBC pushed every chance it could. I understand the intent to bring over NASCAR fans , increase viewership etc , etc, just annoyed me.
    I do hope he will do the 500 and any other oval he wants to do. He fulfilled his goal for INDYCAR effort

  6. I don’t hate Jimmie J. at all, but I am sick to death of hearing about him. It reminded me very much of Michael Jordan in minor-league baseball. Every night on the news, the sports recap would be: local MLB team(s) scores, other sports news, and then how MJ did with the Barons that day.

    Yes, I also got sick of hearing about Danica(TM) both late in her Indycar and all throughout her NASCAR career. I had nothing against her personally and I rooted for her when she was starting out with Rahal. But after she went to Andretti and it became painfully obvious she wasn’t going to get to the next level, I got tired of hearing about her when other drivers who are doing as good or better were ignored.

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