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2022 NASCAR Top Storylines: Jimmie Johnson Returning to NASCAR

He was adamant that team ownership was not in the cards. He turned down a contract that would have included an ownership stake at Hendrick Motorsports alongside friend and mentor Jeff Gordon.

But in the end, seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson couldn’t walk away from NASCAR.

After two years racing the NTT IndyCar circuit, Johnson announced a return to stock cars in 2023, buying a stake in Petty GMS. He’ll return to the driver’s seat for a handful of races as well.

Petty GMS, which fields the No. 43 driven by Erik Jones and the No. 42 of incoming rookie Noah Gragson, had one Cup win in 2022 when Jones took the checkers at Darlington Raceway. The win came just one week too late for Jones to qualify for the playoffs, but 2023 could be the year that sees the organization take that step.

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Johnson brings a wealth of knowledge behind the wheel of a racecar, and he’s also a strong communicator and could act as a mentor for Jones and, in particular, Gragson, who’ll enter his first full-time year of Cup competition in 2023.

Co-owner Maury Gallagher welcomed Johnson to the fold at a press conference at Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 4. Gallagher said he was “pinching myself sitting up here with this kind of talent and this kind of record, and I can honestly say that while we didn’t anticipate having this kind of talent up here, it was never not a goal. …

Read all of Frontstretch‘s content looking back on 2022 here

“Jimmie is going to be obviously a great name and a help with a lot of our awareness and marketing, but obviously on the competition side, working with our drivers, Erik and Noah, Grant [Enfinger], all those things will be positives.”

Johnson certainly has the name recognition to be an asset to the team’s marketing efforts, but the organization seems to have a larger role for the 46-year-old in the future.

Seven-time Cup champion and co-owner Richard Petty added, “Me and Maury talk about all the time about what can we do to improve our situation, make our business bigger, win more races, and he called me one day and said, I’ve been talking to Jimmie Johnson. I said, you’ve got to be kidding. Jimmie Johnson wants to be involved with this or we’re going to be involved with him?

“From that standpoint, I just sort of went off the edge and said, this has got to be one of the biggest things that has happened to the Petty crowd and GMS from that standpoint. We joined cahoots last year, got a pretty good start this year, but with Jimmie adding on, with his popularity and the people he knows that we don’t know, it had to be a heck of a deal.

“From my standpoint, it’s a big, big step, not just for one year, but I’m looking farther down the road. If Jimmie comes in, does his deal, I’m 85 years old, so I’m not going to be here for another 15 or 20 years, and then Jimmie can kind of take over.”

Further details on the team’s future have yet to be ironed out. So far, the organization’s name remains unchanged, and no changes have been announced to the team’s alliance with Richard Childress Racing or ECR Engines.

Johnson’s race schedule has not been announced beyond the season-opening Daytona 500. He’s eligible for the All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro based on the current rules, so that wouldn’t be a surprise on his calendar.

But his biggest impact is unlikely to come from the driver’s seat; Johnson hasn’t driven the Next Gen racecar in competition and has been away from NASCAR for two full seasons—expecting wins on the track is a leap.

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His strength at Hendrick was his ability to be a leader within his race team, and he’ll bring that to his new organization. For a young driver like Gragson, who signed on to replace Ty Dillon in 2023, that’s an immeasurable asset. Gragson is a talented driver who often lets emotion cloud his judgment; if Johnson can help him corral his emotions into something more productive, Gragson could be a stronger presence than Dillon.

Jones had a solid 2022 season; he finished 18th in points with a win and 13 top-10 finishes, his numbers comparable to the likes of William Byron, who finished sixth in points. A playoff berth isn’t a huge stretch for Jones in the coming year.

The organization seems poised to grow at NASCAR’s top level, and adding Johnson to the fold brings more to the table in terms of both marketing and leadership. Anything he does behind the wheel is icing on the cake, and in the Petty GMS shop, Johnson brings marketability, mentorship and a long-term leadership role to the company.

Not bad for a guy who didn’t want to own a team.

About the author

Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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