Griffin on the Wing: We may not have seen the last of Johnson in a cup car

Don’t be surprised to see Jimmie Johnson compete in some NASCAR races next year despite retiring from full-time competition, says sports reporter Vinnie Christiano III

Johnson will run 13 races in the NTT IndyCar Series next year after concluding his legendary NASCAR career last weekend. Photo via WikiMedia (Creative Commons License)

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson will undoubtedly be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and he is arguably one of the best drivers to ever sit in a race car. His record-breaking career driving the number 48 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports ended on Sunday at Phoenix Raceway in Arizona, boasting a winning percentage of 12.09%, 83 career cup series wins, and seven championships. On a full-time basis, we have seen the last of “Superman” in the cockpit of a stock car, but he is certainly not done racing.

Over the summer, legendary IndyCar and NASCAR owner Chip Ganassi inked Johnson to a part-time contract to drive in 13 races next year in the NTT IndyCar Series. However, because Ganassi also owns a two-car NASCAR Cup Series operation, it is possible we haven’t seen the last of Johnson there, either. 

It isn’t unheard of for retired drivers to come back to race part-time, being very familiar with the Ganassi operation. In 2018, Matt Kenseth stepped away from the sport while driving for Joe Gibbs, and he returned two seasons later to pilot Ganassi’s 42 car full time. 

In 2015, Johnson’s longtime friend and teammate Jeff Gordon retired from the sport, only to return in 2016 to fill in for the injured Dale Earnhardt Jr. 

In 2013, Tony Stewart injured his leg driving sprint cars, and Mark Martin filled in for him for 12 races.

In 2003, legendary driver “Awesome” Bill Elliott retired from full-time competition but participated in nine years of part-time activity in the years following. 

Even without an injury or driver absence, it seems like there’s still a conscious effort to leave the door open for Johnson to return to the Cup Series. As previously mentioned, Johnson is currently signed with Ganassi to run only 13 races in IndyCar, which some speculate purposely leaves room for him to run a part-time Cup schedule. 

It is no secret that NASCAR has had trouble filling fields for the past couple of years, as it is growing more and more expensive to get to the highest levels of the sport. Johnson’s home race, the Auto Club 400, only drew 38 cars of a possible 40-car field. The race took place in March, before the pandemic made it even tougher monetarily for teams. 

Technically, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibilities for Ganassi to field a third car on his race team for certain races this season, giving Johnson more opportunities to drive for a real competitor in the Monster Energy Cup Series. However, it does seem unlikely, and quite frankly it would be very weird, as Johnson has only ever driven the 48 car for Hendrick Motorsports and seeing him with a different team and different car would be almost alien.

With that said, there’s no guarantee Johnson will drive again for NASCAR. He may even turn down an opportunity that is offered to him, if he doesn’t feel like it’s the right move — but if he does return to NASCAR, and fans are allowed back at the tracks, I would be willing to bet that you may have to pay a little bit extra for a ticket.  

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