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From Italy to Iowa to the simulator and finally the Finger Lakes, there was no rest for NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson. He will travel to Watkins Glen this weekend for one of his final two scheduled appearances in the IMSA sports car.
Then he will focus on planning his 2023 calendar, which Johnson hopes will include a place at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports and Chevrolet plan to bring a production car to Le Mans next June in a special Garage 56 class designed to showcase the innovation of NASCAR’s new Next Gen model. The prestigious endurance race is scheduled for June 10 and 11, two weeks after the Indianapolis 500.
Johnson wants to be part of the lineup, but his participation, he said, depends on the 2023 IndyCar schedule – an indicator that the seven-time NASCAR champion is still planning a third season of open-wheel racing.
Johnson bowed to “behind the scenes” pressure from IndyCar chairman Jay Frye this week to ensure the series was halted during Le Mans.
“I want to go to Le Mans. But I think it all depends on the release of the schedule to figure out if I can,” Johnson said. “I know there’s interest. I definitely have a ton of interest in doing it. We’re just waiting for that first domino to fall.”
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Johnson, who drove for Rick Hendrick for nearly two decades, believes he is on the slate for Le Mans.
“I feel like the interest is really high on both sides,” he added. “We couldn’t talk about anything more formal because the calendar hasn’t come out.”
With everything in limbo, Johnson turned to the scorching days of his current race schedule. IndyCar raced five consecutive weeks before a two-week break, which allowed Johnson to take his wife and two daughters to Italy for a quick vacation.
But the 46-year-old had to head home for a test on Monday at Iowa Speedway, a rare oval Johnson had never raced before. He was cloudy-eyed and drinking coffee during a media session this week explaining how his next stop was the simulator to prepare for this weekend’s Six Hours of the Glen, the third of four IMSA endurance races that Johnson has integrated into its program in an alliance between Hendrick, Action Express Racing and sponsor Ally.
Johnson missed the Twelve Hours of Sebring in March because it conflicted with IndyCar’s stoppage at Texas Motor Speedway, his coasting debut at an oval, so his return to the #48 Cadillac this weekend. end is a reunion with teammates Mike Rockenfeller and Kamui Kobayashi.
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He had a short stint in the Watkins Glen seat a year ago and isn’t sure how Chad Knaus, his former NASCAR team manager and No. 48 IMSA program chief, will use him on Sunday.
“A six-hour race with three drivers, there’s not a lot of driving time, period,” Johnson said. “I think the time I spend in the car ultimately depends on my pace.”
Johnson isn’t sure what his 2023 schedule will look like, but hopes it will include another full season of IndyCar and, at a minimum, IMSA endurance racing.
His return to IndyCar is largely dependent on funding. Johnson found Carvana alone to support his transition from NASCAR champion to IndyCar rookie, and only raced the road and street courses last year. He added ovals this season and made his Indy 500 debut last month.
Although he was considered a threat to win his first 500 meters, he wrecked late and finished 28th. He continued to struggle on road and street courses, leading to a report debunked by Johnson that he will only race ovals next year.
“I don’t know where it came from. It wasn’t part of any discussion I had or any thought process I had,” Johnson said. “What I did was so much fun and enjoyable. Keep improving. I definitely hope to do something similar again next year.”
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Everything he does in 2023 will come down to sponsorship, programming and the 2023 rule changes planned for sports car racing. The DPi prototype class will be replaced by a new LMDh class which will make the IMSA premier class eligible to race at Le Mans.
But with the change, there are concerns that there won’t be enough initial chassis and parts for part-time teams.
“We’re still in that phase with IndyCar, sports car or whatever idea I have for racing. All that’s happening right now is people are just starting to talk about options.” , Johnson said. “It’s usually late summer, early fall, when the paper starts to move and people are looking to ink stuff and get it done. We’re just at the beginning of the cycle, and I’m certainly trying to keep my options open.”