NASCAR: Could Jimmie Johnson return to the No. 48 Hendrick car?

Jimmie Johnson, Legacy Motor Club, NASCAR - Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
Jimmie Johnson, Legacy Motor Club, NASCAR - Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports /

Hendrick Motorsports confirmed Josh Berry as the NASCAR Cup Series replacement for Alex Bowman while he is out, but a question mark still remains for the No. 48 team.

Alex Bowman, who recently announced that he will be missing several weeks of NASCAR Cup Series action after fracturing his vertebra in a sprint car accident, is currently being replaced by Hendrick Motorsports supersub Josh Berry behind the wheel of the No. 48 Chevrolet.

But there is still one upcoming event in which the No. 48 Chevrolet is eligible to compete, but Berry is not.

The 2023 All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway is fast approaching. With that race scheduled for Sunday, May 21, it is entirely possible that Bowman, who is eligible to compete after winning a race last year, will still be out for that weekend.

With Berry ineligible to compete, that opens the door for another possibility.

Hendrick Motorsports may need to find another temporary replacement to drive the No. 48 Chevrolet, should they still wish to enter it in the event.

Past winners of the event and past Cup Series champions are automatically eligible to compete in the event (without qualifying via the All-Star Open), provided they still compete full-time. Last month, NASCAR announced they won’t be making an exception to the full-time rule, but there are now extenuating circumstances surrounding Bowman’s absence.

And with several past winners and champions not currently entered in the event, Hendrick Motorsports have the opportunity to try to lure one of these drivers to the No. 48 team for a one-off appearance at North Wilkesboro Speedway.

With the high amount of anticipation that has come with this year’s All-Star Race, that task may be much easier for the team.

But even though there are plenty of possibilities for the No. 48 team, there is only one replacement who truly makes perfect sense.

And that driver is none other than the seven-time champion who put the No. 48 team on the map, Jimmie Johnson.

From 2002 to 2020, Jimmie Johnson was the only full-time driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet with Hendrick Motorsports, and he won 83 races to go along with his seven titles. Upon his retirement post-2020, Bowman moved from the No. 88 Chevrolet to the No. 48 Chevrolet.

Since that move, Johnson ran two seasons in IndyCar for Chip Ganassi Racing, a stint which included an appearance in the 2022 Indy 500 as well as a top five finish at Iowa Speedway.

However, after the 2022 IndyCar season, Johnson announced that he was retiring as a full-time driver across all racing series, but he subsequently became a co-owner of the Petty GMS Motorsports Cup Series team, which is now known as Legacy Motor Club.

The move also allowed him to also return to the Cup Series as a part-time driver, this time driving the No. 84 Chevrolet. He has competed in two races so far this season at Daytona International Speedway and Circuit of the Americas, and there are currently two more on his schedule at Charlotte Motor Speedway and the Chicago Street Course.

But for now, Johnson has not announced an entry in the All-Star Race later this month, as there has been no announcement regarding the potential for Legacy Motor Club to field the No. 84 Chevrolet.

While Legacy Motor Club plan to switch from Chevrolet to Toyota following the 2023 season, Johnson is still a Chevrolet driver, meaning that the No. 48 Chevrolet can’t be totally ruled out for one weekend.

Jimmie Johnson wouldn’t be the only one not running his usual car number in the NASCAR All-Star Race.

Kevin Harvick, a driver who competed against Johnson for the better part of two decades and is currently in his final full season as a driver, will not be driving his usual No. 4 Ford. Instead, he is set to drive the No. 29 car, a throwback to his 13 seasons with Richard Childress Racing from 2001 to 2013.

With one of Jimmie Johnson’s main competitors throughout his career running a throwback to his early years, it only makes sense for Johnson to follow suit during what is already set to be a memorable weekend.

While it is extremely difficult for a team owner to compete for an entirely different organization, even for one weekend, the overall circumstances surrounding this particular situation present enough reasons for Johnson to drive for what is now a rival team.

With the race being a non-points race that will largely be centered around the 75th anniversary of NASCAR and the overall return of North Wilkesboro Speedway to the schedule, having arguably the greatest driver in NASCAR history return to the track for the weekend driving the car in which he dominated for years would only add to the atmosphere surrounding the event.

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While it still may be a longshot, it would be a sight that just about every NASCAR fan would welcome for the weekend.