By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Jimmie Johnson made it clear that he’s entirely focused on his final full-time NASCAR Cup Series season, but he left the door open to run in other motorsports disciplines following 2020 which includes the NTT IndyCar Series.
The seven-time champion was in the house during INDYCAR’s Spring Training at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas Tuesday, meeting up with the likes of McLaren CEO Zak Brown, the Team Penske drivers, and veteran driver Graham Rahal to name a few.
The very next day, he was the last man to speak with the press during Daytona 500 Media Day and discussed about his COTA visit.
“I have so many friends in that garage area, great friends that live in Austin, as well, to have the day off and go out there Monday afternoon, have dinner with some friends, went to the track, saw more friends. It was just kind of exploring and looking around,” Johnson said. “I don’t have anything planned. There’s really no plans formalized. Just kind of hanging out, looking around, seeing what it’s like, seeing what kind of develops as the year goes on. Of course, my focus and priority is here. There’s going to be a fine balance of making sure I can do everything I can on the Cup side while looking at some opportunities that should develop through the course of 2020.”
If he were to run INDYCAR, it would only be the road courses and is a huge supporter of the new Aeroscreen that’s being implemented this season. This week’s testing session marked the first time being tested in the rain and with multiple cars on track.
“I’ve gone in circles enough, and granted a road course is still a circle, but I’m not interested in ovals really,” Johnson on wanting to give road racing a try. “I think the windscreen on the IndyCar certainly creates a huge upgrade in safety for those cars. I don’t want to say that an oval would be completely out of the question. The right oval would be important. I want to do some road course racing.”
Indy car road racing wasn’t the only kind of racing he’s open to run as his passion to run other vehicles grew after driving the Formula One McLaren Honda during the ride swap with Fernando Alonso at Bahrain in 2018.
“After driving that F1 car a couple Novembers ago, just blew my mind what that experience was like. IndyCar is an option. Sports cars. I could see a situation where the WEC Series has an eight-race schedule, there’s a lot of off weeks an eight-week schedule. Travel the world, take my family with, school, experience the world. I could see a neat opportunity there.
“Clearly the IMSA Series racing here in North America would be a lot of fun. Those divisions would be probably my first focus in ’21 or ’22. In my heart, I still want to go back and do some off-road racing. I think opportunities like that will be around for a long time. I feel like there’s probably a shorter runway on some of these other series. With that being said, I’m just open. We’ll see what develops over the year.”
Although Johnson was at COTA, he didn’t partake in any driving activities other than driving a rent-a-car. However, seeing the circuit amazed him despite not getting the first-hand experience behind the wheel.
“Max Papis wouldn’t let me drive it. He was too busy being Max and showing me around,” Johnson said. “I didn’t drive anything there, but rode shotgun and felt like I was going to get sick.”
“To see it even in a rent a car, there’s just a unique feel that TV doesn’t carry over,” Johnson said, expressing his amazement of seeing COTA. “The tracks are awesome. I mean, they look big and nice and wonderful. From the driver seat, the way they shape turns really, really complicated angles and corners, a lot of elevation you can’t see from television which is very intriguing as a driver.”
Perhaps the most fascinating takeaway from Tuesday’s appearance in the world of INDYCAR are drivers approaching Johnson of wanting to try a stock car racing as well as doing an oval test, including the championship-winning team from last season.
“I was chatting with the Penske drivers,” Johnson said. “They’re the first ones to really say, What is it like to run an oval? Would that be a good first step? I’m like, You have to do it, it would be fantastic. You really get to see our cars in their environment to thrive.”
If there’s one bit of advice he would give to not only the Penske entity (consisting of defending series champion Josef Newgarden, Indy 500 champion Simon Pagenaud, former series champion Will Power, three-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves, and two-time Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin), but also the rest of the INDYCAR paddock that are interested in running NASCAR – try the ovals in order to get a genuine feel of the cars.
“You take an IndyCar guy and put him in a Cup car on a road course, it’s going to be a little underwhelming,” Johnson said. “Totally different vehicles, totally different disciplines. You put them on an oval, let us get our aero magic working, put them at a track like Dover, Bristol, let them experience the banking in one of our cars, I think they’d really enjoy it.”