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Dropping the Hammer: ‘Time Marches On’ for Jimmie Johnson, Legacy MC

Jimmie Johnson has only been a NASCAR Cup team owner for roughly half a year, but he’s quickly making one thing clear:

He’s willing to turn the page to be better.

That became obvious Tuesday (May 2), when an email landed in inboxes announcing the biggest surprise of the 2023 season so far.

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Legacy Motor Club, the Chevrolet team Johnson became co-owner of late last year, will race under the Toyota banner starting in 2024.

Johnson’s entire NASCAR career, from his first Busch Series (now NASCAR Xfinity Series) start on July 31, 1998, at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park to his most recent Cup start at Circuit of the Americas in April, has been been under the Chevrolet flag.

The 84 total wins and seven championships between Points A and B are great and all, but at this point they’re just fond memories.

Those accomplishments with Chevy aren’t helping Erik Jones‘ No. 43 and Noah Gragson‘s No. 42 go faster.

Johnson acknowledged the “deep roots,” “pride of accomplishment” and friendships established from his time with GM.

However …

“Time marches on, and there’s a moment in time here that I have with this club and with the opportunity we have as an organization,” Johnson said.

For the first time since 2001, Johnson isn’t able to enjoy the resources and equipment that come with being part of a top Cup team.

He’s a few notches down the totem pole.

Johnson realizes adaptation is necessary.

“Directionally, I think that there’s a lot that’s unknown in the future of our sport,” Johnson explained Tuesday. “We’re racing a new car and, frankly, I’m pretty new to the way we go racing now. When I left the sport, there still was some testing.

“There were other elements where teams could develop in and work through stuff on their own. The way it is positioned now, it really is a function of the OEMs collecting the information and that gets shared through the teams and through the organizations. And our deep alignment in ’24 and beyond with Toyota puts us in a very strong position to control our own destiny as an organization.”

While Legacy Motor Club is a partner of Chevrolet, Johnson made sure to note what level of a partner they are “within the framework we exist under GM.”

Unlike Hendrick Motorsports, Trackhouse Racing and Richard Childress Racing, Legacy doesn’t enjoy the status of being a “key partner.”

“We acquire engines from the collaborative group (Hendrick – ECR engines) and then we also pay for the technical alliance that we have with RCR, and we’ve had a great relationship there,” Johnson said. “But there’s no way around it.

“We’re not in that top pecking order. We’re working through RCR for the information that we receive. In our opportunity that we have in the future, we’re up on equal footing with 23XI [Racing] and with Joe Gibbs Racing, and that’s big, that’s real.”

The gist: it’s better to be the No. 3 team at Toyota instead of the No. 5 or No. 6 at Chevrolet.

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Now look at it from Toyota’s perspective.

The youngest manufacturer in NASCAR will finally expand back to eight teams for the first time since 2011.

After years of fielding primarily just JGR’s four cars and 23XI Racing’s two JGR-linked cars, Toyota now has a third mouth to feed.

“I talk a lot about trying to be strategic and not reactive,” Toyota Racing President David Wilson said. “This is a perfect example. What the right number is, I don’t know. […] I think the sweet spot is somewhere between eight to 10, if they are quality teams and capable drivers.

Wilson said Johnson and team co-owner Maury Gallagher have “taken a chance on Toyota. And we’re humbled by it.

“Now the pressure is on us to deliver. […] This has to be done without compromising the relationships and the strength that we have already established with Joe Gibbs Racing and 23XI Racing.”

Of course, Wilson added, that’s no small task.

“Our resources haven’t extrapolated by adding two more cars,” Wilson said. “We’ve got to do as good or better a job with the same. And so this is part of why I love this sport, because you’re always having to focus on how you compete and how you compete more efficiently.”

Toyota’s ability to do so and win championships with its “focused approach” was a quality that “impressed” Johnson and he admired in his time competing against them on Sundays.

“Getting to understand their mindset a bit more now through this process,” Johnson said. “There’s not just one way to accomplish success within the sport, but with where we are as a team and where the sport is heading, I really feel like we’re making a great foundational move, strategic move for us that will carry on for years to come.”

2023 is Daniel McFadin’s 10th year covering NASCAR, with six years spent at NBC Sports. This is his third year writing columns for Frontstretch. His columns won third place in the National Motorsports Press Association awards for 2021. His work can be found at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and SpeedSport.com. 

The podcast version of “Dropping the Hammer” is presented by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

About the author

Daniel McFadin is a 10-year veteran of the NASCAR media corp. He wrote for NBC Sports from 2015 to October 2020. He currently works full time for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and is lead reporter and an editor for Frontstretch. He is also host of the NASCAR podcast "Dropping the Hammer with Daniel McFadin" presented by Democrat-Gazette.

You can email him at danielmcfadin@gmail.com.

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Bill B

“After years of fielding primarily just JGR’s four cars and 23XI Racing’s two JGR-linked cars, Toyota now has a third mouth to feed.”

Really just YEARS of fielding primarily just JGR’s four cars.
This is only 23XI’s 3rd year.
It’s about time Toyota started helping fill the field out.

DoninAjax

Jimmie goes where his ego leads him.

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