MARTIN: Jimmie Johnson Eyes IndyCar Series

Bruce Martin Mug
Bruce Martin

AUSTIN, Texas — Imagine going to the 2021 Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach and seeing some of the biggest names in racing lining up on the grid.

Everyone from Scott Dixon in the No. 9 Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing to Alexander Rossi in the familiar blue-and-yellow NAPA Honda for Andretti Autosport to Colton Herta in another Andretti Autosport Honda.

Starting near the front is a third Arrow McLaren SP car driven by a racer from Southern California. His name is Jimmie Johnson.

Imagine that same car/driver combination competing here at Circuit of The Americas or Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis.

If the seven-time NASCAR Cup champion has his way, that could happen next season. He is open to running up to five NTT IndyCar Series races on street and road courses.

Just a few days before Johnson competed in the Daytona 500 to begin his final full-time season in NASCAR Cup Series racing, he visited COTA to get a closer look at the Arrow McLaren SP team. McLaren CEO Zak Brown invited Johnson to COTA as the two talked about checking some items off Johnson’s Bucket List next year.

“At the end of last year when I knew I was done with 38 races a year, I got so excited,” Johnson said. “I have a lot of things I want to try including IndyCar and sports car racing in 2021 and now I can consider those as my Bucket List.

“Zak and I formed a friendship based on the car swap we did at Bahrain two Novembers ago and we stayed in touch. I kept in touch through his involvement in NASCAR and his marketing company. When he said he was coming over and invited me, I decided to come out.

“I’m here to look around and have some fun,” Johnson continued. “I have some great friends here in the Austin area. I have great friends here in this garage area, including Arrow McLaren. I did the Formula One swap with Fernando Alonso a few years ago. I just wanted to check it out.

“I love Austin and I wanted to come to this track. Hopefully, we get some cars on track and see some action.”

At one time, Johnson wanted to try Indy car racing on the high-speed ovals, including the Indianapolis 500, but his wife, Chandra, objected.

Now that IndyCar has created the aeroscreen to improve driver safety in the cockpit, it has increased Johnson’s interest in getting behind the wheel.

“The aeroscreen for me is huge,” Johnson said. “From a safety standpoint, I’m used to having a roof over my head and a windshield in front of me. That safety step really opens up my interest in IndyCar. I grew up going to the Long Beach Grand Prix and was an Indy car fan and thought that was going to be what I did.

“But my career path went in a different direction. Getting in an Indy car, experiencing one and maybe racing one is all on my Bucket List.”

Johnson admitted he considered running the Indianapolis 500 10 or 12 years ago and discussed the possibility with team owner Roger Penske.

“An Indy car has been something for me that as a kid growing up, I dreamed of racing,” Johnson said. “As a kid in Southern California, I went to the Long Beach Grand Prix. Rick Mears was my hero and like me, he came from off-road racing. It’s always been on my radar. My career took me to NASCAR. I have no clue what 2021 holds for me, but I’m open.

“If the right opportunity comes up, I would certainly consider it.”

Johnson hopes to tackle some new challenges next year.

“It’s a box I want to check and where my head is,” he said. “IndyCar is an option and sports cars are an option. I have finished second in the Rolex 24 twice and I would like to try that again. I would like to stand on the top box. Le Mans is on my wish-list. Off road, I would like to run the Mint 400 again or the Parker 400, some of those courses I really enjoyed. I’m really open to the point of checking boxes. That is what 2021 will be all about in and out of the car. There is a lot I want to do and balance my life with my family. I want to do a full-distance Iron Man. There are some mountain bike races I’m interested in.

“It’s about checking some boxes in 2021.”

If Johnson is able to check those boxes, it would be huge for race fans who could get a chance to see one of NASCAR’s greatest drivers compete against IndyCar’s top stars at some of the top street and road courses on the schedule.