IndyCar CEO Mark Miles announces new race in 2021.
Jimmie Johnson and Chip Ganassi Racing’s partnership for a two-year IndyCar program, announced last month, has always had a small caveat. Call it the “fine print” of the news release.
They needed a sponsor, which everyone around the paddock assumed would only be a matter of time for a seven-time NASCAR Cup champion making his American open-wheel debut.
The green flag landed Saturday when the duo announced online auto retailer Carvana will be featured on the Honda car in a primary sponsorship role next year that will carry his iconic No. 48.
Johnson, who watched Saturday’s series practice closely in-person, will make his IndyCar debut March 7 back in St. Petersburg after tests Nov. 2 at Barber and Nov. 10 at Laguna Seca, among others.
“It’s incredible to have a guy so excited about joining our series and such a competitive person with some runway in front of him,” team owner Chip Ganassi said in Saturday’s news conference. “To bring in a new company like Carvana is just another feather in both of our caps, and it’s an honor to bring in an industry dealer as a sponsor.”
“When this (driver) partnership was broached to me six months ago, I said, ‘No, he doesn’t want to come (to IndyCar)’, but yes he does. Believe me, you’ve got to pinch me that I’m sitting here today announcing this.”
Johnson, presently planning to run a 13-race road and street course-only program for CGR, originally tested for the team on the IMS road course in late-July with managing director Mike Hull, team owner Chip Ganassi and veteran driver Scott Dixon all on hand. The longtime stock car driver had expressed great interest in diving into open-wheel racing in 2021 after he retires from full-time Cup series racing ever since his appearance at February’s open test at Circuit of the Americas.
Then a guest of Arrow McLaren SP at COTA, Johnson said this summer he had been in talks with numerous IndyCar teams and had cooperation from longtime partner Chevy to expand his searching into Honda territory as well. On Sept. 9, after AMSP had said they wouldn’t pursue testing Johnson until at least the offseason, the 45-year-old driver and Ganassi announced their partnership.
But as it turns out, Ganassi and Johnson needed help from AMSP to finalize the program. The latter team had taken over ownership of the No. 48 earlier this year, likely in anticipation of working out a program with Johnson, but Johnson said Saturday that through talks with IndyCar president Jay Frye, they were able to work out a deal to pick up his longtime number to be stylized in CGR’s font.
Ganassi also affirmed Saturday that he plans for the No. 48 to run all 17 races in 2021 and for it to be the team’s fourth entry, with an oval-only driver to be announced at a later date.
“This is huge. I’m as happy as anybody to be able to drive for Chip,” Johnson said Saturday. “It’s something I want to be part of, and I’m so thankful to have been given this opportunity to help bring this relationship to the finish line and bring a new sponsor into motor sports and the IndyCar series.
“I look forward to having that Carvana car on the track very soon.”
Email IndyStar motor sports reporter Nathan Brown at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @By_NathanBrown.