Story by Patrick Reynolds. Photo courtesy NASCAR.com
Jimmie Johnson is celebrating his seventh NASCAR Cup Championship which tied him with Hall of Fame inductees Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. As the offseason and countdown to the Daytona 500 begin, Johnson can also count 80 race wins at stock car racing’s highest level. On the all-time win list, he sits only four victories behind Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison, three behind Cale Yarborough, and four ahead of Earnhardt.
With Johnson’s staggering numbers, what is next?
He certainly has nothing left to prove in NASCAR. He looks to be at the top of his game and at 41 years of age he shows no signs of slowing down.
This brings us to a nice spot for hypothetical offseason bench racing.
What if the champ took his talents elsewhere and looked to climb new motorsports mountains? A Memorial Day weekend Coca Cola 600 and Indianapolis 500 double pops into my head first. A few NASCAR stars have taken to Indycar’s biggest stage with Kurt Busch being the most recent in 2014.
Running a more mixed schedule was simpler decades ago when contracts were less involved in motorsports. Drivers such as A.J. Foyt and Parnelli Jones would be regularly racing on open wheel circuits while occasionally crossing over into NASCAR.
Comparable to today’s era, Tony Stewart competed in the complete 1998 Indy Racing League schedule and filled in his open weekends with a NASCAR Busch Series ride as he was being groomed for a full-time NASCAR Cup jump in 1999.
Johnson came from an off road racing background prior to learning the stock car trade. He already has proven his versatility. Whether or not he ever would actually consider a ride in Indycar, he appears to have the adaptability to be successful.
As for an Indy 500 attempt, Kevin Harvick has stated that he is not interested. Stewart said he won’t try it again. Kurt Busch seems focused on winning another Cup title. Kyle Larson would like to do it. Kyle Busch has a Cup title and he certainly wants another.
Johnson’s seven championships give him a Hall of Fame platform to jump to Indycar with no regrets or unfinished business in NASCAR.
Crossing over between NASCAR and Indycar is not easy by any means. A driver has to have the talent, and be at the right time professionally and personally to make a jump. Johnson’s achievements line him up pretty well.
Johnson has not made any public claims to want to try the Indy 500 or even dabble in Indycar racing. However with all of his Hall of Fame accomplishments, the daydream of a Lowe’s-sponsored 48 dueling alongside Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing bring a fresh outlook to the next record Johnson achieves.
But there is that eighth championship to consider.
Whether it be NASCAR, Indycar, or back to his off road racing roots, Jimmie Johnson can carve his path into the history books any way he chooses. He has nothing left to prove.
Patrick Reynolds is a former professional NASCAR mechanic who hosts Speedway Report Mondays 7:30 pm ET/ 4:30 pm PT on http://speedwayreport.com/tv/. Follow on Twitter @SpeedwayPat.