Rick Hendrick has already found the next driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet.
“Jeff Gordon is coming back,” deadpanned the team owner on Thursday afternoon.
In all seriousness, Hendrick is in no hurry to find or announce who will take over the car in 2021. Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson made it public Wednesday that the ’20 season will be his final full year of competition in the NASCAR Cup Series. Thursday, he expanded upon his decision while saying he has one more year left to win races and compete for a championship.
Seeing Johnson being competitive is also where Hendrick’s focus is.
“We have another year,” said Hendrick. “Our company is really excited; we’re going to put everything we’ve got into all our cars. With Chad [Knaus] sitting here as a big part in Jimmie’s career and what he’s done for this company, it’s our goal to get him the absolute best, and we want to see him go out on top; winning and getting that championship. We actually talked about that the day after we got back from the race in Homestead.”
In October, Hendrick Motorsports announced that Johnson’s sponsor Ally had signed a three-year extension with the team. Considering that Johnson sat down with Hendrick that same month to inform him he wanted to retire, Hendrick said everyone was upfront with Ally about what was happening.
“We told them,” said Hendrick. “They were hoping that Jimmie would run four or five more years, but they knew that, and they were aware that could happen. And they’re excited because I think you’ll see Ally get behind him as a sponsor in his last year like you’ve never seen anyone send a guy out before.
“They’re happy for Jimmie. They’re not happy that he’s not going to be there, but they’re good with it.”
Four-time champion Jeff Gordon is a co-owner of Johnson’s car. Although retired, Gordon is still involved in the business side of Hendrick Motorsports.
“I can tell you right now, we’re not looking,” he said of Johnson’s replacement. “It’s just because we’re not there yet. The most important thing right now is focusing on Jimmie going out on top. He deserves it. He wants. His drive is there. I think the connection between he and (crew chief) Cliff [Daniel] is there.
“We’ve not done a good enough job giving him the equipment the last couple of years, and we’re very focused on that. We got some time before we need to think about that.”
Because of Ally having extended through the ’23 season, Gordon, who will definitely not be the driver, admitted there is no urgency. Ally is supportive and wide open to what happens next.
“In ’21 definitely things are going to change,” said Gordon, “so we’ve got to evaluate and look at what type of driver is going to suit that car.”