Rejuvenated Jimmie Johnson returns for 20th Daytona 500 after IndyCar try

DAYTONA BEACH — Jimmie Johnson has a prediction for Friday at Daytona International Speedway.

Make that a guarantee from a champion driver who already has silenced doubters during his latest Speedweek.


“I’m going to puke,” Johnson said. “I know it’s going to happen.”

Turns out the most accomplished NASCAR racer of his generation suffers from motion sickness. But a joy ride in an F-16 Fighting Falcon with the Thunderbirds was an offer Johnson no longer could refuse.


“I’ve been pushing that off for decades,” he said “I don’t know if I will ever get asked again. I’m not going to eat a lot and I’m going to let it rip.

“I’m really looking forward to being scared.”

Jimmie Johnson autographs NASCAR memorabilia during Daytona 500 auto race media day Feb. 15, 2023, at Daytona International Speedway.

Johnson has never shied away from a hair-raising challenge, or a potentially soul-crushing one. After all, he once squeezed in the Boston Marathon between races in 2019, crossing the finish line in just 3 hours, 9 minutes and 7 seconds less than 48 hours after he’d completed a 400-lap race in Richmond, Va.

Eyebrows still raised when the seven-time Cup Series champion left NASCAR in 2020 for the IndyCar Series. Johnson changed his body, shifted his mindset, familiarized himself with an entirely new car and then willingly took his lumps.

He endured plenty of them. Johnson posted two top-10s during 29 races and led 12 laps, including two during the 2022 Indianapolis 500 — perhaps the highlight of the IndyCar experiment despite a 28th-place finish.

While the quantum leap to open-wheel racing fell short, it ultimately led him back to his roots in a new role and reaffirmed his passion for Cup Series racing. Johnson is now part owner of Legacy Motor Club, a team rebranded from Petty GMS featuring drivers Erik Jones, Noah Gragson and occasionally Johnson.

“The last two years have been a growing opportunity for me that’s led to this opportunity,” Johnson said. “When I left NASCAR, there was no chance I was ever going to come back as an owner. It was never in the cards for me.

“I thought in the back of my mind that I’d come back and drive.”


Jimmie Johnson stands by his car July 23, 2022, during qualifying for the IndyCar Series auto race at Iowa Speedway, where he ultimately tied for 5th. It was Johnson's highest finish during 29 races in the series.

The 47-year-old proved Wednesday night he still belongs behind the wheel at Daytona International Speedway.

Johnson’s lack of familiarity with the “Next Gen” car bordered on comical as he discussed the learning curve hours before he climbed into his No. 84 Chevrolet Camaro. The mental checklist was long.

“The last thing I have to be aware of and remember is that there are five gears and not four,” he quipped. “In the simulator, I made that mistake and ran around in fourth gear for one of my qualifying laps.”

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But Johnson quickly found his stride during qualifying to lock into Sunday’s Daytona 500 with a lap of 179.276, fastest among the six drivers in unchartered cars and 23rd overall.

Johnson, though, really never left his comfort zone and lost his way. He moved on from NASCAR to pursue different driving experiences.

During the past 12 months, Johnson drove an electric rally car in the snow and ice of northern Sweden, briefly held the Indianapolis 500 lead and raced the streets Long Beach, a special place for the San Diego native.


Yet, the Cup Series is where Johnson’s heart is. Rejuvenated and without regret, he feels home again.

“It’s what I know and what I love,” he said. “I really wanted to experience other cars and other tracks before that door closed for me. The grind of having 19 years in Cup took its toll on me and I just wanted to drive other cars and try other things.

“Some thought it was crazy and some thought it was maybe foolish or wild. But that was for me.”

This article first appeared on Email Edgar Thompson at or follow him on Twitter at @osgators.