By: Spencer Neff
April 13, 2021
IndyCar1909 wraps up our 2021 Rookie Previews with one of the most anticipated new drivers in many years.
After more than 20 years as one of NASCAR’s most successful drivers, Jimmie Johnson will make his NTT INDYCAR SERIES debut at Barber Motorsports Park this weekend.
Before he gets behind the wheel of a different No. 48, here’s a look at Johnson’s career to this point.
At the age of four, the El Cajon, California native began racing motorcycles on dirt, similar to four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears, one of his childhood idols.
Johnson’s first major success came in trophy trucks, including multiple wins and awards across the Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group and Short-Course Off-Road Drivers Association (MTEG and SODA)
In 1997, Johnson began his time in the ASA (American Speed Association) as his dirt pursuits moved to pavement. A year later, he debuted in the NASCAR Busch Series with ST Motorsports at Indianapolis Raceway Park. That year, he finished fourth on the ASA National Tour.
The next year, Johnson won two ASA races and competed in five Busch Series events with Herzog Motorsports. At the start of the new millennium, the move to NASCAR became full-time.
In 2001, Johnson scored his lone career Busch Series victory at the brand new Chicagoland Speedway. His talent caught the eye of NASCAR Cup Champion Jeff Gordon, who convinced Team Owner Rick Hendrick to sign Johnson to his team.
Beginning of an Era
After three races with Hendrick in 2001, Johnson embarked on his first full-time season in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. For the 2002 season-opening Daytona 500, Johnson started on the pole.
In April, he earned his first career victory at California (now Auto Club) Speedway in his 13th start. By season’s end, Johnson would become the first rookie to win twice at the same track (Dover) and lead the points, finishing fifth in the season standings. Johnson also won the 2003 IROC (International Race of Champions) event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the series’ last of six events at IMS.
Johnson earned two runner-up points finishes and a fifth-place over the next three seasons.
In 2006, Johnson began the season with his first Daytona 500 victory. In August, he won the Brickyard 400 for the first time and earned his first NEXTEL Cup Series title at season’s end.
By 2009, Johnson broke Cale Yarbrough’s record when he earned his fourth consecutive title and made it five in a row the following year. Three years later, he earned his fourth win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Brickyard 400.
In 2013, Johnson earned his second Daytona 500 victory and earned a sixth championship.
Following Gordon’s retirement after the 2015 season, Johnson became the active cup wins leader ahead of the 2016 season. During that year, Johnson earned five victories and tied Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt with his seventh championship.
After three wins early in 2017, Johnson tied Yarborough for sixth all-time with 83 wins. Over the final three years of his career, Johnson would go winless. In his final Cup Series start, he finished fifth at Phoenix Raceway on November 8.
After his initial test with Arrow McLaren SP was canceled, Johnson was able to test an IndyCar with Chip Ganassi Racing on July 26. Following a second delay, the championship driver made his IndyCar debut on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course.
On September 9, Ganassi confirmed Johnson for a two-year deal with the team. Johnson’s deal is for road and street courses only. Later on, his friend Tony Kanaan was announced as the driver of the No. 48 entry for the oval events.
“When I tested Chip’s Indy car earlier in the year, it only lit the fire more. I found that I wanted to do it more than ever before. Scott [Dixon] was just incredible to work with and in a short time I found out very quickly why Chip and his teams have won 12 INDYCAR Championships,” Johnson exclaimed in the announcement.
“As part of a natural progression, I wanted to publicly show the alignment with Chip Ganassi Racing to kick the sponsorship program into high gear. The goal is to run the full road and street program and today is a very important first step in accomplishing that goal.”
Johnson’s addition will draw interest from around the motorsports world, something not lost on his team.
“It is always difficult to find great drivers but for them to be great guys too makes it even that much more challenging. To pair Jimmie with the likes of Scott Dixon is quite an opportunity,” Car Owner Chip Ganassi added.
“They are truly in rarified air and I think everyone knows by now that ‘I like winners’. The goal right now is for us to run Jimmie in an Indy car for at least the next couple of seasons, and we want to show people we’re serious about the program. We felt it was important to get the partnership done and start putting the financial building blocks in place to make this a reality. Jimmie’s record speaks for itself and we feel a championship-level driver of his caliber can only make our team better.”
Header Image By Chris Owens/INDYCAR