Jimmie Johnson is set to make his return to the NASCAR Cup Series in the 2023 Daytona 500 behind the wheel of a third part-time entry for Petty GMS. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has spent the last couple of years trying his hand in the IndyCar Series, running part-time in 2021 and full-time in 2022.
But with Johnson’s return comes a curious question — what number will he use?
The only number that Johnson has ever used in NASCAR Cup Series competition, the No. 48, is taken and will not be relinquished by Hendrick Motorsports and Alex Bowman.
Here are the five most-likely numbers that Johnson could have on his Chevrolet Camaro when the garage opens at Daytona International Speedway in February:
In an interview with Forbes, Petty GMS President Mike Beam, 49 was tossed around as a possibility for Johnson’s new car number.
Sure, it’s the next number in line from his iconic No. 48, but there is more significant meaning to it for Petty GMS than that.
Johnson, who joined the ownership group of the team, is a seven-time Cup Series champion just like fellow Petty GMS co-owner Richard Petty.
“We have two seven-time champions and if you multiply seven times seven, you get 49,” Beam said to Forbes. “That would be a perfect number for our team with Richard Petty and Jimmie Johnson.”
While 49 makes mathematical sense, the No. 92 would hold special significance for Johnson, as it is the number he carried when he broke into the NASCAR National Series ranks full-time.
While the California native didn’t light the world on fire in his two full-time NASCAR Xfinity Series (then Busch Series) seasons with Herzog Motorsports in 2000 and 2001, it was just enough for Jeff Gordon to take notice and suggest that Rick Hendrick hire him at Hendrick Motorsports.
Johnson’s lone NASCAR Xfinity Series win, in 93-career starts, came in the No. 92 at Chicagoland Speedway. The No. 92 would certainly be a cool tie-in with where Johnson’s legendary NASCAR career began.
Johnson was also quoted in the Forbes interview, where Mike Beam explained his thoughts on the No. 49, and Johnson tossed out the idea of the No. 84. It is the No. 48, but flipped around.
That is pretty cool, but 84 is also a number that Johnson has had targeted in his mind for years. In 2017, Johnson scored his 83rd-career NASCAR Cup Series victory, which put him sixth on the all-time wins list. One more win and Johnson reaches even higher rarified air as he would move into a three-way tie with Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison, both of which have 84-career wins.
So, there are a couple of cool tie-ins for Johnson and the number 84.
How about the No. 44? This one hits as a sentimental number for Johnson as well as the Petty family.
The Petty GMS team currently holds No. 42 and No. 43, which are the legendary numbers of Lee Petty and Richard Petty. But back in the day, Petty Enterprises also had a No. 44 car, which was driven by Kyle Petty. How cool would it be for Petty GMS to add another Petty number into their stable?
Additionally, the number would serve as a throwback for Johnson, who piloted the No. 44 in the American Speed Association (ASA). Johnson utilized the number in 1998 and 1999 and he had some success as he scored two victories and he finished fourth and third in the point standings in the two seasons.
His incredible performance led to Herzog Motorsports moving Johnson to the NASCAR Xfinity Series full-time in 2000.
If the 44 is to be Johnson’s next number, there is a question as to how clean the acquisition of the number will be as NY Racing fielded the No. 44 in five events during the 2022 season with Greg Biffle behind the wheel.
Then, there is No. 94. While it holds no significant tie in for Petty or Johnson, the number is certainly a BIG DEAL for Beam.
Beam served as the crew chief for Bill Elliott during Elliott’s tenure in the No. 11 Junior Johnson entry, but Elliott made the move to start his own team for the 1995 NASCAR Cup Series season.
By the 21st race of the 1995 season, Beam was reunited with Elliott as the crew chief of the No. 94 car.
While Elliott never won a NASCAR Cup Series race in his own equipment, he finished eighth in the point standings twice in the No. 94 entry with Beam as his crew chief.
When GMS made the move to start their own NASCAR Cup Series team, heading into the 2022 season, it was the No. 94 car that the team originally unveiled. Then, as the team entered a merger with Richard Petty Motorsports, the team added the iconic No. 43 car and swapped their No. 94 for the No. 42.
Could Johnson bring back Beam’s No. 94?
Ultimately, we’ll see what number Johnson will drive very soon, as Daytona is just around the corner, but one thing is for sure — there are several numbers that have significant meaning to all of the players involved at Petty GMS.