By David Morgan, Associate Editor
AVONDALE, Ariz. – Jimmie Johnson may have stepped away from full-time racing two years ago, but on Friday at Phoenix Raceway, he made his return in a big way.
The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion will join forces with Petty GMS in an ownership role, which will also include some driving opportunities on a part-time basis starting in 2023. Among the races that Johnson will compete in is the 65th running of the Daytona 500.
Since he ended his full-time Cup career, Johnson has run in the NTT IndyCar Series over the past two seasons, but never quite closed the door on NASCAR. After announcing that he would not return to IndyCar full-time next season, the conversations between he and Petty GMS ramped up, which led to Friday’s news.
“It’s great to be back in NASCAR,” Johnson said. “When the INDYCAR season ended I started on this journey of what was next. Maury and I connected, this opportunity came to light and it’s the perfect fit for me.
Team ownership makes so much sense at this stage of my career and after spending time with Maury and his family, talking with Mike (Beam), Dave (Elenz, crew chief of the No. 43) and Joey (Cohen, Director of Competition and Engineering), I realized this was something I wanted to be involved with from both the business perspective and on the competition side.
“If I’m going to commit to something like this, I want to make a difference and have something tangible to show for it when it’s all said and done. So, this opportunity with Petty GMS is all of that and much more.”
With Johnson on board, the team now boasts 14 championships and 283 Cup Series wins among its ownership group, as fellow seven-time champion “The King” Richard Petty is one of the team’s namesakes.
Since Petty and GMS merged into its current iteration before this season, the team has turned the corner and is only looking to continue their upward trajectory into the future. Current team driver and winner of the 2022 Southern 500 at Darlington returns next season, along with Noah Gragson, who joins the team in 2023 following a stout Xfinity Series career with JR Motorsports.
“What an exciting time for Petty GMS,” said Petty. “This year we’ve accomplished so much together with Maury and now adding Jimmie will only continue to help us grow. To have Jimmie – another seven-time champion – as a part of the team, and his abilities both on track and off will be special for Petty GMS. I’m looking forward to having him as a part of our team and seeing what we can build together.”
“I couldn’t be happier to have Jimmie Johnson joining Petty GMS,” the team’s majority owner, Maury Gallagher added. “We have been consistent since we began our Cup effort last year in wanting to be up front and have a winning program.
“No one in the modern era of NASCAR has won more than Jimmie. Having a driver, the caliber of Jimmie, driving our equipment and being able to provide feedback to our crew chiefs and engineers but most importantly, mentoring Erik and Noah will be invaluable. Perhaps most important of all, Jimmie will be a great partner.
“I know I speak for all the Petty GMS team members, including Richard Petty, in welcoming Jimmie to the team. No one else will be able to say they have two seven-time Cup champions on their team. We are looking to make a strong statement next year and show that we are here to contend for wins and championships. I can’t wait to see what we can achieve together.”
Johnson’s involvement with Petty GMS also continues the recent trend of former/current drivers buying Cup Series ownership stakes. Those drivers include Justin Marks and Trackhouse Racing, Denny Hamlin and 23XI Racing, and Brad Keselowski and RFK Racing.
Following the Johnson/Petty GMS announcement, Johnson’s former car owner, Rick Hendrick, gave his approval of Johnson not only climbing behind the wheel, but also joining the ownership ranks.
“This is a tremendous day for our sport,” Hendrick said. “Jimmie (Johnson) is one of the all-time great champions on the racetrack, and I know he’ll apply the same mentality to his role as a team owner. When he sets his mind to something, the level of commitment and work ethic he brings is unsurpassed.
“Seeing Jimmie in a firesuit with his name on the roof of a Chevrolet at the DAYTONA 500 is going to be very special for a lot of people. Competing against him will certainly be a change, and a big challenge, but we welcome his return to NASCAR and look forward to the next chapter of a truly remarkable career.”
More is still to be announced regarding Johnson’s involvement with the team, including car number, sponsors, and the schedule of Cup races that he will run next season.