In almost every way, Jimmie Johnson is one NASCAR’s greatest drivers — For the most Cup Series victories, his seven tie Richard Petty with Dale Earnhardt Sr.
Johnson, however, seemed to be moving as far as NASCAR could take him after his retirement from stock car racing in 2020. at He won the Race of Champions in Sweden last year; he also competed in vintage cars races at The 2022 Goodwood Revival was in England. He tried his hand at endurance racing. And last season, IndyCar open-wheel series saw him compete full-time, including his first race. at The Indianapolis 500.
“Growing up, my heroes took their helmets anywhere around the world and drove every vehicle,” Johnson spoke in an interview by phone. “I found myself in a very fortunate and unique situation to do some of that over the last two years.”
Johnson’s only hope was failure. At 47 years old, Johnson had never been to open-wheel racing. He was also a novice and often ran at the back of IndyCar. Johnson was seen as one of his most vulnerable members on endurance teams.
He is now set to race again in NASCAR, having widened his racing horizons. at Sunday’s Daytona 500. This time he is a half-owner and part-time driver of Legacy Motor Club. Legacy Motor Club used to be known as Petty GMS Motorsports. He joins an ownership group that includes Petty — the 85-year-old NASCAR legend — and the airline entrepreneur Maury Gallagher.
Motorsports are experiencing an upswing in popularity in the United States, Johnson said, highlighted by the country’s increased interest in Formula 1. Johnson believes NASCAR has the potential for success similar to Formula 1 and feels that it is now the best time to make a return.
“The water is rising in the harbor, and it’s lifting all ships,” Johnson stated. “In NASCAR, we’re seeing younger owners enter the sport now with different ways of doing business, different ideas and culture. Everyone is really rethinking things, growing and developing.”
NASCAR has been trying for years to regain the fame it enjoyed during the 1990s and 2000s when stars like Jeff Gordon and Earnhardt were well-known. Johnson, who was also a newcomer to the NASCAR scene, won five consecutive Cup Series titles between 2006-10. However, interest in NASCAR declined over the next few years. Most pundits blamed changes to racing format, retiring stars and the introduction in 2007 of a boxy, standardized chassis.
Particularly evident was the drop in popularity in television ratings. Nielsen reports that TV ratings dropped by 3% in 2006 Daytona 500 — which Johnson won — earned 19.4 million viewers, the highest in the event’s history. Last year’s edition garnered less than half of that with 8.9 million viewers, though that represented an improvement over the prior two years.
Recent years have seen the organisation open to new ideas and hosting more races. at In a move away from the traditional oval track, road courses will be held on dirt tracks. Exhibitions are also run inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. NASCAR’s Chicago Street Race will be held in July. This is the first street race of its type for the series.
“There have been a lot of changes made within the sport, a push to add new markets, and there’s just a lot of energy and excitement around NASCAR,” Johnson stated. “I really believe in where the sport is going.”
The concept of team ownership is changing. 23XI Racing is co-owned and managed by retired N.B.A. star Michael Jordan, and Trackhouse Racing, co-owned by the Grammy Award-winning rapper Pitbull — which both debuted in 2021 — have shown the value of creating a strong brand identity for themselves, according to Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s Chief operating officer. Each team offers extensive merchandise, and has a distinct presence on social media.
“One thing that has been lacking is that brand name around a team, as far as it being almost like its own entertainment company,” O’Donnell said. “We saw with Trackhouse, for example, how they approached the marketplace — I think it opened a lot of eyes. You can become a part of NASCAR but also branch out and be your own brand.”
Petty stated that “new-school” thinking was what Johnson brought to the table and was the driving force behind his team’s rebrand.
“This is the start of what we’re trying to accomplish in the long run, looking five and 10 years down the line,” Petty stated. “We want to make it so people will pull for the team no matter who’s driving or sponsoring the cars, or whatever the circumstances may be. It’s sort of like a football team — you still pull for the team no matter who the quarterback is.”
Johnson’s return to NASCAR also coincides with the sport’s looking to raise its international profile. NASCAR’s next-generation stock car will be entered into the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June. This is the famed endurance race in France. Johnson will be one of the car’s drivers, joining a team consisting of Mike Rockenfeller, a past Le Mans winner, and Jenson Button, the 2009 Formula 1 world champion.
“Le Mans is really the last thing on my bucket list,” Johnson stated. “As I’ve traveled the world and attended other events, I’ve always been impressed and surprised how much fans and other competitors know about NASCAR. So, I’m happy that we’re trying to tap into that and make our appeal more worldwide.”
A major objective of international expansion is NASCAR’s in the next few years, O’Donnell said. The organization has four racing series in international markets — Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Europe — and O’Donnell said the objectives were to grow those series, potentially bring a Cup Series event to those markets and attract international drivers to compete in the Cup Series in the U.S.
Those efforts have already yielded results: Last year, Daniel Suárez of Trackhouse Racing became the first Mexican driver to win a race in NASCAR’s Spitzer series. And last year’s Cup Series race at Watkins Glen, N.Y., featured drivers from seven different countries — the most in the organization’s history.
O’Donnell said that Johnson, who now has a wealth of international racing experience, will be a key player as NASCAR looks to further expand abroad.
“He’s a terrific ambassador for the sport and someone we’ll lean on to give feedback on how to grow in the right way,” O’Donnell said.
As for this weekend’s Daytona It will mark the 500th time Johnson competes in this event. NASCAR’s Next-generation car debuted last year. It features a different transmission and drafting dynamics to the stock cars. Since Johnson is not a full-time Cup Series driver this season and will be competing in select races, he had to earn his spot in Sunday’s field through qualifying earlier this week.
Johnson is the winner of the Daytona 500 two times. Denny Hamlin is a NASCAR veteran and founder of the 23XI Team. at The race, and the whole season.
“I hate tainting what I’m going to think about him if he comes in and struggles — which is the most likely scenario,” Hamlin stated this on his podcast for the month.
But other drivers were less concerned about Johnson’s ability. Scott Dixon, a six-time IndyCar series champion, worked as Johnson’s teammate the past two seasons at the Chip Ganassi Racing team in IndyCar and said that Johnson’s championship pedigree was on full display.
“Jimmie’s not scared, man — inside or outside of the car,” Dixon stated. “His attention to detail and work ethic was outstanding, and we all saw the gains internally more than people did in the grandstands. Returning to NASCAR will be like muscle memory, and I have no doubt that if he has a winning car, he could win the race.”
Johnson, himself, is more concerned about the outcome. Johnson is less concerned about results. Daytona 500 will be the first of a handful of races he will compete in this season, and his primary goal is to gain experience inside the car to provide feedback to his team’s engineers and full-time drivers. However, anything can happen if everything goes according to plan.
“It’ll be a learning curve to get up to speed, but I’ll get there,” He stated. “My objective is to survive, gain experience — and hopefully be there at the end.”