If Jimmie Johnson ends up competing in IndyCar after he retires from NASCAR competition, for which teams might he end up driving?
Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson announced in November that the 2020 Cup Series season will be his 19th and final season as a full-time driver at NASCAR’s highest level and that it will mark his fourth and final attempt to become the sport’s first eight-time champion.
But one thing that the 44-year-old El Cajon, California native has not done is shut the door on racing beyond the 2020 season, and he has stated multiple times that he would consider competing in series outside of NASCAR.
He discussed the matter again during his time attending IndyCar’s opening preseason test session at Circuit of the Americas earlier this week, stating that IndyCar and sports car racing are now on his “bucket list” with him no longer being committed to racing for 38 weekends a year past 2020 like he has been for nearly two whole decades.
This time next year, Johnson will no longer be a full-time Cup Series driver. He will no longer have that 38-weekend-per-year commitment. He will no longer be tied to the #48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet week in and week out.
Assuming he does end up in IndyCar in some capacity, what are some of his options as far as teams are concerned?
During his entire NASCAR career, Johnson has driven for Chevrolet, although that doesn’t necessarily mean he couldn’t drive for Honda in IndyCar.
Andretti Autosport adding a separate entry for Johnson in select road or street course races doesn’t seem too far-fetched considering how many cars they field, nor does Chip Ganassi Racing doing the same thing, especially since Hendrick Motorsports and Chip Ganassi Racing work closely together in the Cup Series, where both are aligned with Chevrolet.
But let’s take a look at the three most likely Chevrolet options: Team Penske, Ed Carpenter Racing and Arrow McLaren SP.
Team Penske makes the most sense just because of how competitive they are. They are the only Chevrolet team with any wins since the start of the 2017 season, and they have won 25 of the 51 races that have been contested since then.
Johnson already reportedly spoke with the team about competing in the Indianapolis 500 about 10 or 12 years ago, although the Indy 500 is not a race in which he wants to compete at this point.
What is notable about Team Penske is what they are doing this year for Scott McLaughlin. Team Penske aren’t known for fielding additional entries for part-time drivers, beyond the annual Indianapolis road course/Indy 500 effort for former full-time driver Helio Castroneves. Yet McLaughlin is set to compete for the team in at least one road course race this year.
Could they do something similar for Johnson?
Ed Carpenter Racing also makes sense because of their situation with team owner Ed Carpenter. Carpenter only competes in the oval races and has done so since the 2014 season, so they have a car that is open every year for just the road and street course events.
Since Carpenter shifted from a full-time driver to an ovals-only driver, the same driver has not driven his car in the road and street course races for two consecutive full years. Should that trend continue and/or if they end up dividing up the road and street course schedule, Johnson could be a perfect fit.
Finally, there is Arrow McLaren SP. Johnson already has ties to McLaren because he participated in a ride swap with then-McLaren Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso at Bahrain International Circuit back in November of 2018.
McLaren are in their first year back in IndyCar on a full-time basis this year, and they returned to the sport via a partnership with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports that resulted in Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports ending their contract with Honda a year early to switch to Chevrolet engines.
Arrow McLaren SP field two full-time cars. But they do have a third car ready to run the Indy 500. While Johnson would not want to compete in the Indy 500, could they make that third car available for other select races throughout the season in 2021 and beyond?
Nothing is set in stone for Jimmie Johnson beyond the conclusion of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season. But with IndyCar on his “bucket list” for 2021 when he is no longer committed to full-time Cup Series competition, it will be interesting to see how things pan out, especially in regard to where he might land.