As Jimmie Johnson prepares for his final race as a full-time NASCAR driver, it doesn’t appear that he’s thinking about a possible NASCAR return in the future.
In an interview with Sports Illustrated published Wednesday, Johnson was asked if he had thought about coming back to NASCAR like his former Hendrick Motorsports teammate Mark Martin did. Martin raced full-time for Hendrick from 2009-2011 after he ran a part-time schedule the previous two seasons.
SI: What are the odds that we see you back in NASCAR at some point, that you either pull a Mark Martin and unretire or just decide you want to dip your toes back in?
Johnson: I think it’s more of a toe dip. With the rules package and where NASCAR’s going . . . you know, I want to drive stuff with way too much horsepower. And that’s definitely not the direction the [Cup] cars are going. But I love the sport and I want to be around. I want to be involved. I’m totally open to moonlighting.
NASCAR has both significantly cut engine horsepower and added aerodynamic downforce to cars over the past two seasons. Drivers can run nearly flat-out for an entire lap at 1.5-mile tracks. That was previously unfathomable when cars had more acceleration and less grip in the corners.
The sanctioning body cut downforce at short tracks in 2020 because the added downforce negatively impacted the racing. But NASCAR seems committed to keeping the added downforce and reduced horsepower at bigger tracks. And that sure looks like it’s a turnoff for Johnson.
You can understand why. Johnson’s seven titles came when Cup cars had a far different downforce to horsepower ratio. And Johnson has struggled as he’s aged and NASCAR has changed the rules. Johnson, 45, hasn’t won a race since he visited victory lane at Dover in June of 2017. And he’s missed the playoffs in each of the past two seasons.
Jimmie Johnson’s next adventure: IndyCar
Johnson’s quest to drive cars with more horsepower and less downforce is taking him to the IndyCar Series in 2021 and 2022. Johnson signed a two-year deal with Chip Ganassi Racing earlier in 2020 to run the series’ road course races over the next two seasons.
Johnson made it clear when he announced his full-time retirement from NASCAR that he wanted to continue to race after he stepped out of the No. 48 car. And moving to IndyCar will scratch that itch. Though he’s continuing to say that he has no present desire to run ovals in IndyCar.
“Maybe in ’22 or beyond, I would consider it,” Johnson told SI. “But right now I just feel good about the road courses. I know the risk factor I’m taking getting into an IndyCar on a road course. I’m just not ready to cross that bridge for Texas and Indy.”
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.