LAS VEGAS – When Jimmie Johnson tested a Formula 1 car Monday in Bahrain, everyone talked about how it made him confident he could drive an open-wheel car.
Missing from the conversation: Johnson regained some much-needed confidence in his ability in a stock car.
How so? After the first winless season of his 17-year career, the seven-time Cup champion Johnson was reassured that he knew how to go fast after piloting the McLaren nearly as fast as two-time world champion Fernando Alonso.
“What I take away from that F1 experience is I climbed in an unfamiliar car and environment and did really well,” Johnson said Wednesday following the first of two days of NASCAR’s postseason celebration. “So my natural instincts, my ability to drive, my ability to scare myself and challenge myself hasn’t gone anywhere.
“We just had a bad year. I wish I knew what was off in 2018. … The Formula 1 [car] gave me a huge boost in confidence and, honestly, a big smile on my face. I don’t think I smiled much in 2018 on the NASCAR side.”
Johnson, who has 83 career wins, has a contract through 2020 with Hendrick Motorsports, and the enthusiasm he showed in Bahrain for driving a possible IndyCar road-course race or more sports cars could give the impression that he wants to start his post-NASCAR career sooner than later.
The 43-year-old Johnson said that’s not the truth.
“I have two more years left [on my contract] with Rick, and that’s where that’s at and then who knows?” Johnson said. “I don’t have a plan. I know that people would love for me to have a plan, but I don’t.
“I just want to race and I want to drive cool cars and I want to go to cool races.”
Johnson won’t run the Indianapolis 500 – he promised his wife once they had children he wouldn’t do the high-speed open-wheel ovals.
“I’ve made it pretty clear I’m far from done and there’s lots of racing left within me,” Johnson said. “In the heat of the moment and experiencing the rush of the Formula 1 car, I always grew up with open-wheel dreams as a kid. … A lot of my heroes when I was young were guys that moved around [and] hit the marquee events.
“If I can create that someday down the road for me to participate in, that would be a great way to wind down racing in general.”
Johnson’s F1 experience certainly had the attention of other NASCAR drivers, who wanted to talk to him about the feel of the car Wednesday.
“I’m definitely on Cloud 9,” Johnson said. “There were so many things I experienced along the way that I’m forever grateful to McLaren and Alonso for. … My own experience in the car was just out of this world.
“I’m so happy to make these guys [in the Cup Series] jealous. I’ve been threatened to be punched in the face a few times, which is fun. Just an awesome experience.”