By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
With Richard Petty Motorsports (RPM) driver Aric Almirola still recovering from his injury at Kansas Speedway, and substitute Darrell Wallace, Jr. having no experience at Sonoma Raceway, RPM elected to take a different route. Road racing veteran and IMSA regular, Billy Johnson will pilot the No. 43 Smithfield Ford Fusion in the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.
This will be Johnson’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut.
Johnson is fresh off the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans where he co-drove the No. 66 Ford EcoBoost / Castrol Edge Ford GT for Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK. His team started 39th overall and finished 28th overall, and 10th in the LMGTE Pro class.
Johnson worked with Almirola at the Ford Performance Racing School at Miller Motorsports Park.
Johnson has five career NASCAR Xfinity Series starts, four of which came at road courses. His best finish came in 2012 at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal for Roush Fenway Racing. Johnson started ninth and finished eighth, scoring his only Top 10 finish in NASCAR to date.
In the NASCAR Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series (now WeatherTech SportsCar Championship), Johnson has three victories and five podium finishes in 27 starts. He also has 23 victories, and 49 podiums in the IMSA Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge, including a second-place finish in the Driver Championship in 2011.
Johnson considers the opportunity a huge honor,
“It is going to be awesome. It will be my first NASCAR Cup race and to debut in the 43 car, one of the most iconic numbers to ever race in NASCAR, is a huge honor. Richard Petty Motorsports is a great organization. To have the chance to make my Cup debut for the King is surreal, and I appreciate them putting me in the car.”
“I have run a lot of XFINITY races, but this will be my first Cup race. It is awesome that RPM and everyone at Ford Performance has the confidence in me to take on Sonoma. I have run pretty well in the XFINITY road course races I have done, so I hope that translates into a good showing this weekend.”
Dave Pericak, the global director of Ford Performance was excited about the chances Johnson has,
“We are so excited about Billy Johnson making his Cup debut. He drove great for us in Le Mans this past weekend, has been a champion for us in the past in the GT350, and he’s been one of our development drivers for a while.”
“To be able to put him in a Cup car, at the highest level of NASCAR, in the iconic No. 43 Fusion, and to let him show his skills at Sonoma, well, we couldn’t be happier for him to have this chance.”
Wallace, Jr., will return to the team at Daytona International Speedway. In the meantime, Johnson will join Israeli-born NASCAR Whelen Euro Series driver Alon Day as the drivers making their NASCAR Premier Series debut at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday.