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What’s next for Jimmie Johnson’s 2023 racing schedule? Questions, answers and analysis

Jimmie Johnson 2023

MADISON, IL - AUGUST 19: Jimmie Johnson (#48 Target Chip Ganassi Racing) addresses the media before the start of practice for the NTT IndyCar Series Bommarito Automotive Group 500 on August 19, 2022, at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway in Madison, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

MONTEREY, California – With sponsor Carvana returning, Jimmie Johnson knows he will be racing in 2023. But now he needs to figure out where -- and IndyCar, IMSA and possibly NASCAR are among the many options.

On the eve of the last race of his first full season in the NTT IndyCar Series, Johnson told reporters Friday at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca that “Carvana is behind me in whatever I choose to do for 2023” after being pleased by the return on its multimillion-dollar investment the past two seasons. The online car sales retailer has made a massive promotional push behind Johnson, who has been the focus of its national ad campaigns since he joined IndyCar in 2021.

“They see such a high value in being a part of the IndyCar Series, the cars that I’m driving, the series I’m involved with, that ultimately whatever path I choose to have in ’23, they’ll support it,” he said.

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It’s the third consecutive year that Johnson will cement his racing plans during the fourth quarter but with a few important twists.

Unlike the last two seasons when IndyCar and the Rolex 24 at Daytona (along with other IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship endurance races) were the main focus, Johnson’s schedule seems wide open for next year. And he has more time to plot out his next moves than last year when he and Carvana didn’t finalize plans until December.

“I wish I had more to share,” Johnson said when asked what he wants to do next year. “I do have this news in September vs. December last year. My typical journey, especially in IndyCar, the season finishes, and I take some time to figure out what I really want to do. Explore the options that I have in front of me. And then make a decision.

“So I feel very good to have this news and to know that what I provide, what Chip Ganassi Racing provides. What the series is about, Carvana wants to be back. They’re willing to support a full IndyCar schedule if that’s what I choose to do. So now it’s time to go home and really look inside myself and figure out what my goals are personally and professionally. Spend some time talking to the girls about it and make some decisions.”

Whichever decisions are made, it’s clear Johnson is keeping all his options open for next year -- even a potential NASCAR cameo.

As he prepares to mull the next chapter of his storied career with his wife, two daughters and his business team, here are some pressing questions (and analysis) of the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion’s plans in ’23:

Q: What’s the likelihood of Johnson racing in IndyCar next season?

A: Virtually 100 percent, even though Johnson stopped short of confirming it Friday.

It makes sense that he would hold off details because Carvana’s commitment has been “recent,” and Chip Ganassi Racing will need time to nail down its plans depending on whether Johnson decides he wants to race part or full time. During his part-time season in 2021, Johnson raced the road and street courses while Tony Kanaan drove the No. 48 Dallara-Honda on ovals.

Ganassi could be interested in a similar program next year but running the car as an Indy 500 one-off or perhaps only on ovals (as Ed Carpenter Racing does with its third car) also could be possibilities.

Johnson said team owner Chip Ganassi has been involved in the Carvana conversations.

“It’s all to be determined,” Johnson said when asked about his IndyCar plans. “I love being here. I want to be here. I do feel the other piece of this puzzle is Chip Ganassi Racing and the support from Chip and everyone internally. It’s just about me taking some time to really lay out the schedule that I want for 2023.”

Q: Why would Johnson scale back from a full-time season?

A: Even though IndyCar’s 17-race schedule is half as long as NASCAR’s 36-race slate, Johnson still found it nearly as taxing. He has joked since last year about traveling and working nearly as much since his “retirement” from stock-car racing.

Even though he has fewer races, he still has the commitments of multiple series that are accompanied by testing (which is virtually nonexistent in NASCAR) and long simulator sessions.

Johnson has made regular commutes to Indianapolis for Honda Performance Development’s simulator (the simulator for Chevy/GM Racing, which includes his IMSA Cadillac program, is within driving distance of his Charlotte home). Per the Indianapolis Star’s Nathan Brown, Johnson has made 15 simulator runs and tested four times this year with Ganassi.

“This year has been more of a time commitment on a full-time schedule basis than I expected,” Johnson said. “I don’t know where my IMSA plans sit, I don’t know exactly where my IndyCar plans sit. I want to get to Le Mans. There are other goals that I have in life, personal and professional as well. Really just kind of go through my normal process, take a bit of time, digest it. Meet with Team Johnson, figure out what works.”

An oval-only schedule also might have more appeal for Johnson, who finished a career-best fifth July 24 at Iowa Speedway and said Friday that his 11th at Iowa the day before was the highlight of his 2022 season.

“It’s all part of the process,” Johnson said when asked if he definitely would return to the Indy 500. “I feel like I just need to let the dust settle on the season and figure out what my personal and professional goals are.”

Q: What about sports cars and the 24 Hours of Le Mans?

A: Johnson is considered a prime candidate to join the driver lineup for the Garage 56 entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans (the specially built Next Gen Camaro is being fielded jointly by Hendrick Motorsports and NASCAR).

He also has finished second three times in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, and a win in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar classic remains high on his bucket list. Because driving the No. 48 Cadillac (which has been funded by Ally, his former sponsor in NASCAR) also reunites him with his former crew chief (Hendrick Motorsports vice president of competition Chad Knaus), Johnson highly enjoys the IMSA endurance events.

He missed the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in March because of an IndyCar conflict this year, and he “eagerly” has been waiting for IndyCar to release its 2023 schedule.

If Le Mans or Sebring are in conflict with IndyCar, that would factor into Johnson’s decision.

“That’s another element of this whole group of options that I have in front of me,” he said. “It’s just another one of those options I’ve got to look at and spend some time in the coming weeks.”

Q: Could NASCAR be one of those options?

A: Johnson initially didn’t mention any Cup or Xfinity races as a possibility. But when told that fans would like to see him race at North Wilkesboro Speedway (home of the 2023 All-Star Race), he smiled and said it could be an option. (Though NASCAR regularly changes its All-Star Race eligibility and formats, there surely would be room made for Johnson if he decides he wants to run the highly anticipated short track event.)

He hasn’t made any NASCAR starts since the 2020 Cup finale at Phoenix Raceway, but Johnson has been open to doing a one-off (and perhaps get a crack at driving the Next Gen car that made its debut this year).

Q: What is Carvana’s budget for Johnson’s 2023 season?

A: Johnson said there “hadn’t been any conversations” yet on concrete numbers, but he talked with the confidence of someone with substantial backing. While he won’t have a blank check, it seems clear that Carvana would have a similar spend to this season.

Q: What else could influence Johnson’s 2023 schedule?

A: Johnson, who turns 47 later this month, hinted there “are new options developing for me that I’ve got to take a hard look at as well.” When pressed for details, Johnson said they were “good options” in motorsports.

But he also will weigh any potential impact on his family, which had major input into his decision to race ovals this season. His wife, Chandra, is mulling an expansion of her art gallery, and he actively supports the interests of daughters Genevieve, 12, and Lydia, 9.

“We have some personal goals, too,” he said. “We’d love to live abroad for a year. There’s just a lot of elements that play into this.

“I feel very fortunate that I had my serious car racing career, and this is really about the experience. Equal to the professional opportunities I have in ’23, I want to look at the personal opportunities for me and my family, and just need some to get that organized.”