His hopes and dreams over the last two years finally came together, as NASCAR Chairman and CEO Jim France's vision of a NASCAR car in the 24 Hours of Le Mans finally played out.
When NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet, Goodyear, and International Motor Sports Association all came together to bring to life France's idea of running a NASCAR car at Le Mans, many were skeptical. However, seemingly against all odds, the all-star collaboration pulled it off. The car performed above and beyond what they all expected, demonstrating that they can hold up against far different cars.
With seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson paired with F1 World champion Jenson Button — and with two-time Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller behind the wheel — the No. 24 Camaro brought the sights and sounds of NASCAR to the whole world. The car was a hit around the garage from day one, among not only the other competitors but also the media and the fans. This race also proved the car was fast, as they were able to consistently put down laps faster than the cars in the GT class.
The car ran near the top of the GT field for more than 20 of the 24 hours of the race. It did suffer a drive line issue during the late hours of the event, but the team was able to get it back on track. The No. 24 was still running at the finish of this ultimate test, and overall it was able to complete 285 laps of the 8.4-mile circuit and finished a solid 39th out of the 62 cars in the field.
What a 24 hours... we will be talking about this one for a while. pic.twitter.com/W0V55UxWuu
— Hendrick Motorsports (@TeamHendrick) June 11, 2023
France was moved by how well the team fared and was happy to build on what his father and NASCAR founder, Bill France Sr., tried to do in the '70s with stock cars at Le Mans.
"That was unbelievable," France said. "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."
He wasn't the only one happy about what they were able to accomplish. Rick Hendrick, the owner of Hendrick Motorsports, expressed how big this was for NASCAR as a whole as he spoke with the media.
"It makes me proud for our sport," Hendrick said. "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."
All three drivers appreciated the opportunity and were thrilled with how unforgettable the experience was. The team as a whole shared plenty of celebratory champagne, as they were able to accomplish the ultimate goal — finish the race.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) June 11, 2023
NASCAR proved the Next Gen Car can hold up. So the real question is: What's next?
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