Jimmie Johnson’s future still isn’t clear depsite sponsorship extension through 2023

DOVER, DELAWARE - OCTOBER 04: Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Ally Chevrolet, drives during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Drydene 400 at Dover International Speedway on October 04, 2019 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Unquestionably the big news to transpire Friday morning at Dover (Del.) International Speedway – where the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series races Sunday (2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) – was confirmation that the Ally Financial has re-upped its sponsorship of Hendrick Motorsports and the No. 48 Chevrolet team through the 2023 season.

The original contract with the team went through 2021, but Ally executives were keen to announce their intentions to return early – much to the pleasure of Hendrick Motorsports, Johnson and the many fans who want to see if the certain future NASCAR Hall of Famer will win an unprecedented eighth title in the next few seasons.

“Our first year with Jimmie and the team at Hendrick Motorsports has been phenomenal,’’ Ally’s Chief Marketing and Public Relations Officer Andrea Brimmer said. “Jimmie’s the ultimate competitor and Ally is proud to support him and the rest of the No. 48 team. We are thrilled to extend our contract and build on the incredible momentum we’ve established.

“This sponsorship goes way beyond just putting our logo on the car. It’s built on our shared values for doing right in the communities we race in, while growing our brand with passionate, new audiences. We look forward to many more exciting laps together.’’

The 44-year old Johnson was understandably all smiles trackside Friday sharing the news and recognizing the confidence Ally has in his team to re-commit so early and so solidly.  And the venue seemed so fitting considering Johnson is the all-time winningest driver at Dover with 11 career victories.

Of course, talk also immediately included speculation on whether Johnson would call it a career – a super-achieving career – in sync with the contract duration. And the always amenable Californian could only smile as he explained there’s been no decision yet on any retirement plans from his end.

“I’m very excited Ally has signed this extension with Hendrick, I think it speaks to the strength of our sport,’’ Johnson said. “I know everyone [involved] would like me to be in the car through 2023 and even past that. I just haven’t made that decision yet.’’

Johnson said he was so upbeat about Ally’s commitment that he wanted the news to be released as soon as possible even though he hasn’t decided on his career timeframe.

“I’m taking every day I can get before I make a decision,’’ Johnson said smiling.

Not only is Johnson Dover’s best performer – ever – it is also site of Johnson’s last victory circle celebration – his 83rd career win – more than two years ago. He missed this year’s Playoff field of 16 by a handful of points – the first time in his 16-year career he isn’t eligible to hoist a championship Cup, NASCAR’s most sought after crown.

After three Top-11 finishes in the last three weeks – the opening three Playoff races – Johnson has pulled to within six points of 17th place driver Daniel Suarez to be best among the non-championship eligible drivers. He’s won at all three upcoming venues in this Playoff round – Dover, Talladega, Ala. and Kansas Speedway.

It all proves Johnson’s repeated reminders that’s he not done yet.

“I don’t have a timeline, I personally would like every day I can before I make that decision,’’ Johnson said of any retirement announcement. “I might want to go even beyond 2023, I just don’t know.’’

Greg Engle