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Jimmie Johnson will make IndyCar debut in St. Petersburg next season

The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion will start the 2021 season at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Jimmie Johnson announces his sponsorship with Caravan and Team Ganassi as a rookie IndyCar driver at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Saturday.
Jimmie Johnson announces his sponsorship with Caravan and Team Ganassi as a rookie IndyCar driver at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Saturday. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Oct. 24, 2020
Updated Oct. 24, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG — Jimmie Johnson will live out a “childhood dream” of his next season as the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and Chip Ganassi Racing driver will make his IndyCar debut at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in March.

Johnson is set to retire from NASCAR at the end of this season, but found the sponsorship needed to compete in the IndyCar circuit. His multi-year deal with Ganassi starts in 2021. Carvana will sponsor him.

“It’s crazy to be 45 years old and going through this, again, and looking at next year and realizing that I’m a 45-year-old rookie in the IndyCar Series is also an interesting one,” Johnson said. “I feel like it’s Day 1 and my excitement to compete and my desire to be competitive is as strong as it’s ever been.”

Related: The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is on, with a different feel

Ganassi said the plan right now is for the 48 car to compete in all 17 races next season.

Johnson said he’s most looking forward to racing out on the West Coast, specially the Streets of Long Beach where he spent his youth watching from the fence line.

“There’s a lot of sentimental and emotional value to that (Long Beach) race,” Johnson said.

"Keeping it on the West Coast, Monterey, I’ve always wanted to run Laguna Seca and thought that someday I would be there and be able to experience the corkscrew. And I thought that wasn’t going to happen until Chip was willing to accept this crazy opportunity, this crazy idea and I get to go there, now.

As for the Indy 500, Johnson said he plans on spending the 2021 season on street and road courses. His view could change, of course, but it isn’t in the works for, now.

“I know that’s going to be a popular question for a long time,” Johnson said.

Johnson was trackside for Saturday’s Grand Prix, paying special attention the IndyCar practice session.

“It reminds me of where I fell in love with the sport, watching the Long Beach Grand Prix as a kid,” Johnson said.

“I would head up from San Diego and watch the Grand Prix and I remember walking over the pedestrian bridge into the track and hearing the cars go by and all the excitement that comes with hearing cars and trying to catch a look at them going by and to have those kind of emotions and thoughts pop back into my head today, it just affirmed why I want to be here and why I want to do this.”

Initially, Carvana CEO Ernest Garcia III said he wasn’t sure if “it would make sense” for them. By the time they hung up the phone, Garcia was excited about the possibilities and opportunity.

Related: More Grand Prix coverage: Meet the two Grand Prix drivers fighting for the IndyCar Series title in St. Petersburg

“Getting to know Jimmie over the last month or so, and just learning about his story of being a legend and a champion and being willing to go back to Square One and start over, again, and do it in front of the entire world I think takes tremendous courage and is something I, personally, have a ton of respect for," Garcia said.

Garcia said he is excited to watch a legend chase his second dream, too.

“It was clear very early on this is exciting in so many ways,” Garcia said. “To me, it’s just a David and Goliath story, except the new David is the old Goliath and I think that’s really, really cool."

Johnson’s finished 31st in NASCAR’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway last Sunday. He sits in 18th place in the Cup Series standings with 835 points and three top-five finishes.

On Sunday, Johnson will compete on the Texas Motor Speedway in the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500. His father, Gary, will serve as the grand marshal.

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.