When you’re Jimmie Johnson – seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, American racing legend, promoter and marketing exec’s dream – you tend to get what you wish for.
And Johnson, as part of his scaled-back racing calendar for 2023, has his eyes set on something no one has attempted since 2014: Running the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 Double the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend.
“I’m seriously considering it,” Johnson said on a call with reporters Tuesday. “When I look at bucket list opportunities, there’s Le Mans, the shot of winning the Rolex 24, and there’s The Double. Those three are really at the top of the list."
Personal interest? Check.
Sponsorship? Check (thanks to Carvana).
Teams to make ends meet? Johnson may already have those, too.
How Ganassi, Justin Marks, Project 91 can make Johnson's dream a reality
Johnson’s IndyCar team owner the last two years, Chip Ganassi, released this statement: “We are fully supportive of Jimmie. He has been a valued member of our team and if we can find a way to continue working together, we would like to do so.”
On the NASCAR side, Johnson confirmed that longtime friend and Trackhouse Racing team owner Justin Marks has wanted to hire the stock car racing legend by any means possible. In a May ‘Ask Me Anything’ thread on Reddit, when asked if he’d let Johnson run his recently debuted Project 91 car in a one-off for The Double in 2023, Marks replied, “Absolutely.”
“He’s been a longtime friend and somebody I stay in touch with,” Johnson said of Marks. “He’s certainly made it known that the Project 91 car is available if I have interest, so I’d need to continue those conversations forward.”
Marks launched his Project 91 program earlier this year, branded as a car set aside for one-off Cup race entries to deliver international names and garner global attention. It made its lone run in 2022 with ex-F1 driver Kimi Räikkönen at Watkins Glen and has since been involved with rumors around Helio Castroneves and next year’s Daytona 500. Johnson, of course, is a household American driver, but Marks has made clear he’d be happy to make the exception. He’s said in numerous interviews, he’d love to one day become a force in NASCAR and IndyCar, referring to a one-off appearance in the 500 as a likely starting spot.
“I don’t think I would say no to any possibility in the future for this brand. I love racing so much, and it’s a great time in the industry with a lot of momentum,” Marks said on Sirius XM radio this summer. “I look at businesses that Roger Penske has built, that Chip (Ganassi) has built, I look at Andretti Autosport and my friends over at Meyer Shank Racing, and there’s a way to structure these businesses so you can really be able to scale.
“I’d love to go to the Speedway and run a Trackhouse car at the Indy 500, and I’ve already started having discussions like that just to see what it would look like. I don’t think there’s any limit to how big our dreams can be around this company.”
The interesting tie-in is this: Marks ran a handful of Xfinity Series races for Chip Ganassi Racing from 2016-18 – including his lone NASCAR-level win at Mid-Ohio in 2016. Since largely stepping away from racing and jumping into team ownership, Marks launched Trackhouse Racing as a one-car Cup team in 2021 in a partnership with Richard Childress Racing. Last summer, Marks and Ganassi brokered a deal worth tens of millions of dollars that sent all of CGR’s NASCAR assets – shop, workers, cars, parts, everything – to Marks and Trackhouse. This year, the team jumped to two full-time cars, has three wins and still has two of the 12 drivers remaining in the Cup series playoffs with six races to go.
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In other words, should Marks be interested in partnering with an existing IndyCar to launch his 500 and open-wheel ambitions, Ganassi would be an obvious choice. Johnson said he’s only spoken to Ganassi in terms of continuing any IndyCar ambitions he may have.
“I feel like I’m a part of the family at CGR, and if I am in an Indy car, that’s really where I’d want to be,” Johnson said Tuesday.
Johnson confirmed Tuesday that he didn’t foresee any manufacturer conflicts. Without any present plans with Ganassi, Johnson doesn't have an official relationship with Chevy and can negotiate his future events as he pleases. Importantly, Kurt Busch, the last NASCAR driver to have attempted The Double in 2014, ran a Honda car with Andretti at the 500, followed by Stewart-Haas Racing’s Chevy in Charlotte later that evening.
Is there enough time in the day to complete The Double?
Older race fans remember the days of John Andretti, Robby Gordon and Tony Stewart’s attempts at The Double when the 500 started at noon Eastern time – compared to as late as 12:45 p.m. this year. The Cup race now typically starts roughly 30 minutes later than it did a few decades ago – moved from 5:45 p.m. to just after 6:15.
So Johnson would have 15 minutes fewer to complete 500 miles at IMS, and then go helicopter-plane-helicopter to make it to the infield at Charlotte Motor Speedway. In 2001, Stewart’s total time between green flags was 5 hours and 45 minutes. For Kurt Busch in 2014, the last driver to attempt The Double, it was just over 6 hours. Assuming typical start times next year, Johnson would have roughly 5-and-a-half hours.
Busch benefitted from what, at the time, was the second-fastest 500 with a total run time of just over 2 hours and 40 minutes. Stewart’s final run in 2001 lasted more than 3-and-a-half hours. Nowadays, an average 500 seems to last just under 3 hours. That means Johnson would have 15 precious extra minutes than Stewart, who landed at Charlotte Motor Speedway 25 minutes before the green flag for the Coca-Cola 600 in 2001.
Johnson said Tuesday he felt it was plenty do-able as soon as next year.
And though he said in Laguna Seca that his biggest disappointment of his first and only full-time season in IndyCar was his race day performance in his first 500, Johnson doesn’t believe doubling his commitments for May 28 would take anything away from trying to improve upon crashing out in 28th a year ago.
“When drivers did it in the past, I think we had a lot more on-track activity for both series. And I think the way the NASCAR format works now with less of an ask on time, I do feel like with my rough look at it that the potential to apply myself and physically have enough time to pull it off is there,” he said. “With a reduced schedule and not running the full IndyCar schedule, it’ll give me the time I need before and afterwards to seriously focus and dedicate everything I need to give my best performance in both races.”
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Jimmie Johnson eyes 2023 Indy 500/Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR, IndyCar double