NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet, Goodyear partner to make motorsports history
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (June 11, 2023) – For more than two years, a collection of executives and engineers from NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet, Goodyear and IMSA worked to execute NASCAR Chairman and CEO Jim France’s vision to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The all-star collaboration – which includes the winningest team, manufacturer and tire in the sport’s 75-year history – met and exceeded expectations, both on and off the track, during the iconic race’s centenary edition. With the help of three world-renowned drivers (seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, 2009 Formula One world champion Jenson Button and two-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller), the NASCAR Garage 56 program delivered the sights and sounds of NASCAR to race fans from around the world.
The NASCAR Next Gen Garage 56 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 was a hit from day one in Le Mans, among fans, media and even other competitors. And it was fast on track, consistently putting down lap times that bettered cars in the GT class. The car ran near the top of the GT field for more than 20 hours until a drive line issue sidelined the team for more than an hour. Overall, the car was running at the finish, completed 285 laps on the 8.4-mile circuit and finished 39th in the 62-car field.
“That was unbelievable,” said France, whose inspiration for the project came from his father, NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. who brought two stock cars to Le Mans for the 1976 edition of the race. “That was thousands of hours of hard work by hundreds of people that went into making this thing happen. And then the way the team and the pit crews and everybody performed all week, it was just fantastic.”
“I hope my dad and my brother are somewhere up there looking down and smiling, but the goal when we set out was to try and finish the race running at the end and not be last. And we accomplished that.”
“It makes me proud for our sport,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports and NASCAR Hall of Famer. “The last thing I’d want to do is for us to come over here and fall on our nose. That’s what I was worried about. From the very beginning with Chad (Knaus) and Greg (Ives), I said we’ve got to do this right. We don’t spare any expense. Our NASCAR teams can do any kind of race they want to do. I mean, they got the talent, they’ve got the engineers, and they got a lot of smart people and they can do whatever.”
“I feel like we had already captured the trophy right when they dropped the green flag,” said Chad Knaus, Hendrick Motorsports Vice President of Competition who oversaw the Garage 56 program for the organization. “The thing I’m most proud of is that this wasn’t really anybody but a few people’s full-time job. Everybody accepted this task as a passion project and something that they wanted to participate in. And when you get people like that put together, you can do anything.”
Johnson, who accomplished his goal of running stints in a variety of conditions – day, night and wet – also finished the race for the Garage 56 team, running the final 90 minutes.
“My heart is full,” Johnson said. “For all the reasons we know – coming here with NASCAR, Hendrick, Chevrolet, Goodyear. Many of the people here working were on different teams that I won races and championships with. There were so many familiar faces, to have this experience was just off the charts. My bucket is full. I’m really happy.
“The fan reception – whether it was at the parade, or on the cool down lap just now. Even the corner marshals were going nuts. Everything was just incredible.”
Rockenfeller, who did a majority of the testing and simulation work for the car, started the race for the team.
“It’s amazing to finish the race, that was priority number one,” Rockenfeller said. “I think it’s something I will look back to later on with my kids and always will be high on my memory in terms of high level races I did. It has been such a great team, not only my teammates, but everybody on the team. The full journey, I mean, what can I say? I made a lot of friends. And I think we did a good job.”
Button, whose participation was perhaps the biggest surprise when announced, ran 97 laps.
“What amazing people,” Button said. “To take their Cup car and turn it into an endurance car for Le Mans, it’s staggering. They’re the best in the business, I’m proud to be working with these guys.
“It’s difficult because there’s so much emotion, we’re all tired. And this is it. You know what I mean? This is it. This is the last time this car is racing. So it’s kind of sad, but then you just got to think about living in the moment.”
Celebrating its 75th Anniversary in 2023, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) is the sanctioning body for the No. 1 form of motorsports in the United States and owner of 16 of the nation’s major motorsports entertainment facilities. NASCAR sanctions races in three national series (NASCAR Cup Series™, NASCAR Xfinity Series™, and NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series™), four international series (NASCAR Brasil Sprint Race, NASCAR Mexico Series, NASCAR Pinty’s Series (Canada), NASCAR Whelen Euro Series), four regional series (ARCA Menards Series, ARCA Menards Series East & West and the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour) and a local grassroots series (NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series). The International Motor Sports Association™ (IMSA®) governs the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship™, the premier U.S. sports car series. NASCAR also owns Motor Racing Network, Racing Electronics, and ONE DAYTONA. Based in Daytona Beach, Florida, with offices in eight cities across North America, NASCAR sanctions more than 1,200 races annually in 12 countries and more than 30 U.S. states. For more information visit www.NASCAR.com and www.IMSA.com, and follow NASCAR on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat (‘NASCAR’).
About the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA)
International Motor Sports Association, LLC (IMSA) was originally founded in 1969 and owns a long and rich history in sports car racing. Today, IMSA is the sanctioning body of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, the premier sports car racing series in North America. IMSA also sanctions the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge and the IMSA Prototype Challenge, as well as four one-make series: Ferrari Challenge North America, Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires, Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America and Porsche Carrera Cup North America. IMSA – a company within the NASCAR family – is the exclusive strategic partner in North America with the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) which operates the 24 Hours of Le Mans as a part of the FIA World Endurance Championship. The partnership enables selected IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship competitors to earn automatic entries into the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans. For more information please visit IMSA.com, www.twitter.com/IMSA, www.facebook.com/IMSA or www.instagram.com/imsa_racing.
About Hendrick Motorsports
Founded by Rick Hendrick in 1984, Hendrick Motorsports is the winningest team in NASCAR Cup Series history. At the sport’s premier level, the organization holds the all-time records in every major statistical category, including championships (14), points-paying race victories (296) and laps led (more than 78,000). It has earned at least one race win in a record 39 different seasons, including an active streak of 38 in a row (1986-2023). The team fields four full-time Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 entries in the NASCAR Cup Series with drivers Alex Bowman, William Byron, Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson. Headquartered on more than 100 acres in Concord, North Carolina, Hendrick Motorsports employs approximately 600 people. For more information, please visit HendrickMotorsports.com or interact on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Founded in 1911 in Detroit, Chevrolet is now one of the world’s largest car brands, available in 80 countries with more than 3.2 million cars and trucks sold in 2020. Chevrolet models include electric and fuel-efficient vehicles that feature engaging performance, design that makes the heart beat, passive and active safety features and easy-to-use technology, all at a value. More information on Chevrolet models can be found at www.chevrolet.com.
About The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company
Goodyear is one of the world’s largest tire companies. It employs about 72,000 people and manufactures its products in 57 facilities in 23 countries around the world. Its two Innovation Centers in Akron, Ohio, and Colmar-Berg, Luxembourg, strive to develop state-of-the-art products and services that set the technology and performance standard for the industry. For more information about Goodyear and its products, go to www.goodyear.com/corporate.
Graphics & Photos Courtesy of NASCAR