Button, Johnson, and Rockenfeller Will Run the NASCAR Garage56 Car At Le Mans
Last year, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR, and Chevrolet announced a partnership to run a modified current-generation NASCAR stock car at Le Mans. At that point, the program was in its earliest stages and testing had not yet begun. Ten months later, the team has advanced significantly in its testing program and is ready to announce drivers for the race at Le Mans: Formula 1 world champion Jenson Button, seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, and 2010 Le Mans overall winner Mike Rockenfeller.
Johnson and Rockenfeller were relatively likely picks from the day the program was announced. Johnson, who retired from full-time NASCAR racing after the 2020 season, has spent the past two years running part-time alongside Rockenfeller in an Action Express Racing Cadillac DPi in addition to a brief IndyCar career. Rockenfeller has become more ingrained with General Motors and its racing programs in the time since, running his first-ever NASCAR Cup Series race for Spire Motorsports in preparation for the event last season.
Jimmie Johnson is a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion with 83 career wins, a total he hopes to increase in his first season as a co-owner and part-time driver for the newly-renamed Legacy Motor Club team. Rockenfeller is a two-time class winner and one-time overall winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He also won the 2013 DTM championship with Audi.
Jenson Button is a bigger surprise. The 2009 Formula 1 champion joined the team relatively late, reaching out to Rockenfeller over the Winter and attending a test for the first time earlier this month. After retiring from Formula 1 in 2016 and racing a few seasons in SuperGT, Button has spent the past few seasons racing in a few one-off off-road events. He made his Le Mans debut for SMP Racing in 2018, but has not competed at the endurance classic since. Initial speculation had Hendrick Motorsports executive Jeff Gordon taking the third seat in the car alongside Johnson and Rockenfeller, but Gordon is instead participating in the program through his existing role at HMS.
While details on the car are not yet available, performance is said to be comparable to existing GT cars. The team's major challenge will be maintaining that performance throughout a 24-hour endurance race, a very different problem from the usual tests of endurance NASCAR stock cars face in their longest oval races. Although no official invite has been granted to the car yet, an official invitation to the "Garage56" slot for experimental racers is expected in February.
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