Jimmie Johnson returns to NASCAR as part-owner, part-time driver for Petty GMS Racing
AVONDALE, Ariz. – Jimmie Johnson will return to NASCAR next season, not just as a part-time driver.
He will be a part-owner as well.
Johnson announced Friday that he has invested in Petty GMS Racing and will run select races as part of what he hopes is an overall eight-to-10 race schedule that also could include an occasional IndyCar or sports car race.
The 47-year-old seven-time Cup champion, who won 83 races over 20 years of NASCAR racing and has spent the last two years primarily running in IndyCar, committed to trying to qualify for the Daytona 500 next year with the rest of his NASCAR schedule still to be determined.
How did this deal come together? Johnson's agent also is the agent for Petty GMS driver Erik Jones and served as the conduit between Johnson and Petty GMS majority owner Maury Gallagher, the Allegiant Airlines owner who confirmed he is still the majority owner of the organization.
"I've always felt like people helped me get to this point by giving to me that I should give back," Johnson said. "So now in the ultimate scheme of things, I will have that opportunity being challenged to do so I'm really excited to share when I can and how I can, and I don't think I have all the answers.
"And I still have so much to learn, especially with this new role. I know one aspect of the sport, but there are many more for me to learn. And I plan to sit back, listen, take notes from these two pros, and offer help where I can."
The role of Johnson will go beyond being a mentor to full-time drivers Jones and Noah Gragson. For instance, Petty GMS is in negotiations for a technical partner (which would include leasing engines) with Hendrick Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing for next year. It currently has an alliance with RCR, but with Johnson's driving history at Hendrick, that could potentially help land a deal with Hendrick.
"If I can help, that's part of my involvement with this team — if it's with a technical alliance, strengthening a relationship with a manufacturer, helping bring new personnel into the shop because I'm there, new partners that I can potentially bring in, that's part of why Maury was so interested in bringing me in," Johnson said.
Gallagher said he is open to integrating Johnson's name into the team name.
"We're definitely going to take a look at the naming rights," Gallagher said. "The seven-time winner should probably be involved in the name somewhere. We just didn't have time to finish all that stuff."
This deal came together in a last month, leaving such things as the team name, Johnson's car number and Johnson sponsors still to be determined.
"We'll figure out a solution," Johnson said about the team name. "I don't know what that is. Certainly being a stakeholder in the team, that's a consideration and something we're working on. It's all just happened so fast, we don't know where that's headed just yet."
The car Johnson will drive will be a non-chartered car, meaning he will have to earn one of the four open spots for the races he competes in, with the most difficult likely being the Daytona 500. Petty GMS does not plan to enter that car in more races beyond Johnson's races.
"Let's go racing," Johnson said. "I'll do everything I can to get into the Daytona 500."
The remainder of the schedule will be determined by sponsors, while Johnson also has a list of tracks he would like to run again.
Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter at @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.