NASCAR Cup Series

Jimmie Johnson returns to NASCAR as Petty GMS owner/driver

3 Mins read
Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Jimmie Johnson ended his legendary NASCAR Cup Series career after the 2020 season, but he is back for more in 2023. On Friday, Johnson announced he has become a part-owner of Petty GMS Motorsports and will race a limited slate for the team beginning with the 2023 Daytona 500.

The partnership brings together two of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history as Johnson and co-owner Richard Petty both have a record seven Cup championships apiece; Maury Gallagher, the “GMS” of the team, has a pair of Camping World Truck Series titles. The team has seen rapid growth in recent years, going from a one-car operation in 2021 as Richard Petty Motorsports to two in 2022 following a merger with GMS Racing, during which Erik Jones won at Darlington. For 2023, the team will field the #43 for Jones and the #42 for rookie Noah Gragson, who is currently vying for an Xfinity Series championship.

“What an exciting time for Petty GMS,” said Petty. “This year, we’ve accomplished so much together with Maury and now adding Jimmie will only continue to help us grow. To have Jimmie—another seven-time champion—as a part of the team, and his abilities both on track and off will be special for Petty GMS. I’m looking forward to having him as a part of our team and seeing what we can build together.”

Besides seven titles, Johnson’s eighty-three Cup victories are the sixth most in series history. Although he stepped away from full-time NASCAR racing after 2020, the urge to continue his career remained as he dabbled in IMSA and the NTT IndyCar Series; he even returned to his off-road roots in early 2022 when he ran the Race of Champions and helped Team USA to a runner-up in the Nations Cup. While he scored a pair of class podiums in IMSA including the 2021 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, he never seemed to get the hang of IndyCar as he finished outside the top twenty in points in both seasons of competition. Despite Johnson’s IndyCar struggles, he proved his meddle on ovals translated well as his two lone top tens came at Texas and Iowa and he won 2022 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year.

In September, Johnson announced he would step away from regular IndyCar competition, opening the door to a NASCAR return. While once again focusing on stock cars, he has expressed interest in performing “Double Duty” by running the Indy 500 and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 on the same day.

“When the IndyCar season ended, I started on this journey of what was next. Maury and I connected, this opportunity came to light and it’s the perfect fit for me,” Johnson explained. “Team ownership makes so much sense at this stage of my career and after spending time with Maury and his family, talking with Mike (Beam, GMS president), Dave (Elenz, #43 crew chief), and Joey (Cohen, competition director), I realised this was something I wanted to be involved with from both the business perspective and on the competition side.

“If I’m going to commit to something like this, I want to make a difference and have something tangible to show for it when it’s all said and done. This opportunity with Petty GMS is all of that and much more.

“I’m fortunate that I had incredible mentors throughout my life, and I’ve always tried to pay that forward. My experience and energy will add value to a team with young drivers like Erik and Noah. I feel like I can be a good resource both on and off the track.”

While owner/drivers have existed in NASCAR since the very beginning, such figures have seen a resurgence in recent years as the value of teams grows. Denny Hamlin (23XI Racing, though he races for ally Joe Gibbs Racing), Brad Keselowski (RFK Racing), and B.J. McLeod (Live Fast Motorsports) all drive and own Cup operations, while McLeod’s partner Matt Tifft is also a former racer.

Details such as a number and specific dates for his races were not immediately revealed. The #48 he made famous at Hendrick Motorsports is currently used by Alex Bowman, though he previously raced with #88 until Johnson’s exit. Taking into account Petty GMS having #42 and #43, some have suggested for Johnson to sport #44 as it was his number when he entered stock cars in the ASA National Tour in 1998 and 1999.

“Jimmie is one of the all-time great champions on the race track, and I know he’ll apply the same mentality to his role as a team owner,” said Hendrick owner Rick Hendrick. “When he sets his mind to something, the level of commitment and work ethic he brings is unsurpassed. Seeing Jimmie in a firesuit with his name on the roof of a Chevrolet at the Daytona 500 is going to be very special for a lot of people. Competing against him will certainly be a change, and a big challenge, but we welcome his return to NASCAR and look forward to the next chapter of a truly remarkable career.”

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Justin is not an off-road racer, but he writes about it for The Checkered Flag.
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