Cadillac, Ganassi confirm driver lineup for WEC, Le Mans

AVONDALE, Arizona — While the advice and support could eventually end their partnership, Jimmie Johnson cites Chip Ganassi as a key reason why he becomes a NASCAR owner — possibly leaving IndyCar.

After two seasons driving the number 48 Dallara-Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing, a new minority stake in Petty GMS will make the Cup Series stock cars the priority for Johnson in 2023. He began to appreciate the opportunity to be a team owner through Ganassi who brought him behind the curtain to a role that “never suited the cards” for the seven-time Cup champion.

It has long been a reality for Ganassi, whose teams have racked up 21 championships (14 in IndyCar) and 240 wins (including five in the Indy 500 and eight in the Rolex 24 at Daytona) in the past 32 years since he ended a short-car lane. .

“Chip Ganassi more or less suggested how he got his start (saying), ‘Look, I’ve switched from driving to team ownership,'” Johnson told a small group of reporters on Friday after a press conference at Phoenix Raceway. “He has been very helpful to me in my process of bringing partners into the sport and being in IndyCar and has been very kind in showing me behind the scenes what is happening and how things work. I know Mr. Hendrick always had that available for me (when racing at Hendrick Motorsports from 2022-20), but I was never interested. I was too busy driving and focused on that. In recent years I have become more interested in the business side. I have grown a lot there and helped in many areas, especially Chip.”

Growth next year could lead Johnson away from Ganassi — and perhaps IndyCar in general — next year for multiple reasons. While Johnson wants to race IndyCar next season (his original plan was eight to 10 races, including the Indy 500), his new part-time schedule in NASCAR will create some roadblocks.

Petty GMS is a Chevrolet-affiliated team, which creates a manufacturer conflict with Ganassi’s return in a Honda. Johnson said he has yet to talk to IndyCar teams or explore the potential manufacturers dilemma (“I haven’t crossed that bridge yet.”). Virtually all competing Chevrolet teams in IndyCar (Team Penske, Arrow McLaren SP and Ed Carpenter Racing) have indicated that they are unlikely to add a car to the Brickyard in May.

While Johnson wanted to ride the Indy 500-Coke 600 doubleheader, he also wants to ride the 2023 All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway — which would run counter to the Indy 500 qualifying weekend.

Even if he wanted to race for Ganassi, the team is still trying to determine who will replace Johnson on his fourth entry. The No. 48 went full-time last year after a partial schedule of street and road courses in 2021.

While finalizing the deal to join forces with Maury Gallagher and Richard Petty, Johnson said he has been in regular contact with Ganassi, who has remained in his corner despite the possibility of losing him next year.

“I kept Chip informed,” Johnson said. “Obviously we are hopeful that there is some form of IndyCar involvement for me. That’s still quite a goal for myself. Chip tries to figure out what makes sense for the four full-time cars and a fifth car arrives at Indy. Coupled with that, he has a WEC program that he’s trying to start and get people to Europe with cars and equipment, so he’s been really busy. We talked a few times. He knows what’s going on and we’re both still interested in getting me into one of his Indy cars. There is still a lot to arrange, including of course the manufacturer’s piece.

“I can’t express how cool he’s been to work for, and when I got the idea, how supportive he was. And over the two years I’ve spent in IndyCar, and when I tried again to make my decision, how supportive he was used to being me. Do me. Whatever I want to do. When this opportunity presented itself, it was absolutely the same. Same tone, same experience. A day or two ago, when I called him with the official news (about NASCAR), he was so happy. Just genuinely happy for me.”

Johnson and his business team brokered the Carvana sponsorship that funded the majority of his races with Ganassi. Before the IndyCar season finale, Johnson said that Carvana “had given me the green light if I wanted to go back to full-time IndyCar racing.” After initially stating that he would take over sponsorship for several series, Johnson said NASCAR team interest “really took off” shortly after the IndyCar season.

Johnson said he is “very optimistic” that Carvana will continue with him into NASCAR (probably starting at the Daytona 500). He also remains interested in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Next Gen ride at the 24 Hours of Le Mans (“I made sure my calendar is nice and open in June”).

He also has invitations from old friends to race off-road trucks (both in the Midwest and in the desert), and former Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman has offered a Chili Bowl ride.

But Johnson has been too busy solidifying his NASCAR deal to sift through all the options — or understand that some are now impossible. He said, “I haven’t heard no, so I’m encouraged” that he still races in IndyCar, but he also admits that his NASCAR commitments could hinder him in the testing and qualifying necessary for the Indy 500 .

“I’ve only focused on this and I don’t know what the impact of this commitment and relationship is and how it will play out,” Johnson said. “But once the dust settles here, I’ll dig deeper into those other conversations and try to build the best race schedule I can have that fits the new commitment and commitment I have here.”

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