Hendrick Motorsports power romps with Jeff Gordon win and five other top-9 finishers

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Jeff Gordon’s 89th career Sprint Cup win in Saturday’s 5-Hour Energy 400 at Kansas Speedway was only part of a bigger overall story for Hendrick Motorsports.

Gordon led a HMS juggernaut with all four of the company’s drivers finishing in the top nine — and two other drivers with an affiliate team ending up runner-up and in seventh-place.

Gordon HMS teammate Kasey Kahne wound up with a season-best (and first top-five finish) third-place showing, Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. was fifth and six-time and defending Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson finished ninth.

“Yeah, it went really good for us,” Kahne said in a post-race press conference. “We had a fast Farmers Insurance Chevy throughout the race, worked our way up. Some of the pit strategy and things, sequence more than anything.

“We got to the front there for a little bit, led some laps, felt really good at that point in time, and then we got a little tighter later and didn’t free up or tighten up enough there at the end when we put four tires back on. We just tried to run rights for too long.

“It was still a really solid run. Nice to run up front and be able to race hard the whole night. It was good for us.”

Kahne has struggled much of this season, but you could see a turnaround beginning in his prior two races, finishing 14th at Richmond and eighth at Talladega last Sunday.

Now that he has a season-best and first top-five, Kahne’s confidence is sure to grow even stronger heading into next Saturday’s Sprint All-Star Race and then back to points racing in the season’s longest race of the year, the Coca-Cola 600, on May 25 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“Our biggest deal is we’ve just been slow this season,” Kahne said. “Really haven’t been inconsistent or anything like that, we’ve just been slow each week. We tested here, we had that Goodyear tire test, and I felt like from that point on, we’ve actually had really fast cars.

“Richmond we were good, we had some things go on late in the race on pit road that we ended up 14th, but we had a top six or seven car, I felt like, that entire race.

“We ran well at Talladega and then came here and ran up front. We were good in practice. I think the Goodyear test here, for whatever reason, we were able to try some things and just look at stuff a little differently than what we had been, and it helped the 5 team, my guys, myself and Kenny and Chris, our communication together. It’s helped us a lot since then. I feel like that’s been the key, and ever since we tested here, we’ve ran much better and been a lot more competitive.”

While having all four HMS drivers in the top-nine was a big story in and of itself, two other drivers who drive for the HMS-affiliated Stewart Haas Racing were also powered to strong top-7 showings by HMS motors and chassis.

“The relationship that we have at Hendrick with Stewart-Haas is a very tight one that we share a lot of information,” race winner Jeff Gordon said. “Those guys have been so strong. We have been strong, it’s fun to go out there and race those guys for a win like that.”

Kevin Harvick came close to winning his third Cup race of the season, finishing second, less than two car lengths behind Gordon.

And Harvick’s SHR teammate, Danica Patrick, likely felt like a winner, earning the highest finish of her brief Sprint Cup career, ending up seventh in the race (the other two SHR drivers, Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch, struggled to finishes of 20th and 29th respectively at Kansas).

“It felt good,” Patrick said. “My goal at the beginning of the race was really just to stay up in that lead group. … What can I say? I’m really overall proud of the team for building cars like these, and it was so good.

“I know we haven’t had the best of times, but it’s days like today that we work hard for and it’s days like that when we do this enough, it’s the kind of things that materializes in wins.

“We just have to keep hanging around and doing what we’re doing and I’m just proud of everybody working hard and believing in me. We’re in the top 10 – yeah!”

That showing surpassed Patrick’s previous high finish of eighth in the 2013 Daytona 500.

“I think for her it’s just the confidence in knowing exactly what the car is going to do,” Harvick said. “Obviously, she’s run well all weekend, qualified well, raced well all night, and it’s just — there’s a lot of hurdles to overcome for her to make up that experience. I feel like we can help her speed that process up by just telling her some of the things that she should expect and do.

“As she went through the weekend, she kept her track position on the restarts. That’s probably the biggest thing. But I guess the one thing I did tell her was just to quit thinking about it and smash the gas.

“Sometimes your car is never going to be perfect, and you just have to take what it’ll give you and expect that every time you pit it’s going to be better, and if it’s not you adjust and move on.”

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Pfaff Motorsports parks in premier territory while punching above its weight in GTD Pro

Pfaff Motorsports Rolex 24
Jordan Lenssen/IMSA
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – After his team won the Rolex 24 at Daytona in one of the most stirring slam-bang finishes in the storied endurance race’s history, Steve Bortolotti’s phone blew up.

The general manager of Pfaff Motorsports received 370 text messages about the No. 9 Porsche being driven to the GTD Pro victory by Mathieu Jaminet over the No. 2 KCMG Porsche of Laurens Vanthoor (who helped Pfaff win the 2021 GTD title).

“I’ve never had my phone blow up like ever,” Bortolotti told NBC Sports. “I was like, ‘What the (expletive)? This is better than the actual race! It was awesome.”

His phone blew up again last week at Daytona International Speedway – but for an altogether different reason.

DETAILS FOR THE 61ST ROLEX 24How to watch, entry lists, schedules for the IMSA season opener

The Pfaff Motorsports truck driver proudly had sent a photo to the team’s group text chat, showing that the No. 9 was parked directly beside the gleaming haulers for the new Porsche Penske Motorsports.

As the defending series champions in GTD Pro, Pfaff was situated beside the nine cars in the ballyhooed new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category with the next-best spot in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship garage.

It’s indicative of Pfaff’s impressive growth curve over less than a decade in IMSA, building in stature from plaid-clad Canadian underdog to GT powerhouse while continuing to punch above its weight against the biggest factory teams in sports-car racing.

Steve Bortolotti, general manager of Pfaff Motorsports

“Everyone is like, ‘That’s awesome, we’re on the front side of the garage!’ ” Bortolotti said. “That’s really cool for my guys. I never even thought that it mattered. I just was like, ‘Oh shit, there’s going to be a lot of traffic and people around because we’re beside Penske.’ They’re looking at it as, ‘This is really cool and something I’ve always wanted.’ You really don’t know what motivates people, and they probably didn’t know they wanted that until they had it.”

Bortolotti has been leading Pfaff Motorsports, which is based in a 20,000-square-foot shop 20 minutes north of Toronto, since its inception in 2015.

Chris Pfaff (the team’s CEO and president) entered sports car racing as a sponsor promoting the Pfaff Automotive dealership network in Canada. He founded Pfaff Motorsports after discovering many of the Pfaff Automotive employees worked in racing on the side (and often competing against the Pfaff-sponsored car).

Within five years, the team realized its goal of reaching IMSA’s national series in 2019. Within the next three years, it had two championships (in GTD and GTD Pro the past two years) and the 2022 Rolex 24 victory.

“It all starts with a vision to know what you’re striving for or else, racing becomes a fast waste of money if you aren’t chasing something,” Bortolotti said.

It’s been a memorable run for a team that has only seven full-time employees and celebrates its gritty spirit as a Porsche customer team beating factory-backed operations with budgets that could be up to 50 percent larger. On the Pfaff Motorsports website, all of its team members are featured with mug shots and titles – as well as “Turbo Ted,” the shop dog.

Pfaff Motorsports general manager Steve Bortolotti chats on a golf cart in front of the Pfaff Motorsports, hauler, which is parked next to the Porsche Penske Motorsport truck in the Daytona garage (Nate Ryan).

Bortolotti is proud that the team has been kept mostly intact over the past eight years with technical director Andrew Marangoni (who started as an engineer) and car chief Corey Whiteman among the stalwarts in another example of quality over quantity.

“I’d rather have seven extremely talented people,” Bortolotti said. “I’d put my seven up against anyone … give me seven in those equal jobs in other teams, I bet mine are better. I think that confidence I have in them, and they need confidence in themselves but can’t be cocky. There’s a very fine line between confidence and arrogance. I’m glad that most of my guys are confident in their abilities and not here to become celebrities. They’re just here to win races.”

With an influx of cash and staffing this year in GTP (which added Porsche and BMW), Bortolotti fretted that some of his team would be peeled off by the premier prototype division, but its tight-knit culture held firm against recruitment from the factory programs.

“One gentleman was approached hard by two manufacturers and told them ‘I go racing because I enjoy it here,’ ” Bortolotti said. “He’s worked for those programs, in Formula One and elsewhere. He said, ‘Look, I wake up every day and enjoy doing stuff with (Pfaff). It’s not worth another however many thousands to (leave Pfaff).’ That was nice to hear we’re building something great.

“I’m very adamant there aren’t a lot of egos within our team. I feel that’s a huge detriment in racing.”


Pfaff’s lowest moment came just before its biggest successes.

The COVID-19 pandemic was doubly hard for the team, which faced the specter of economic hardship layoffs mixed with quarantine restrictions that lasted through June 2021 and made travel extremely difficult across the border.

But Pfaff soldiered through and added Vanthoor (who was left without a ride Porsche shuttering its GTLM team) to pair with Zacharie Robichon for the 2021 championship season.

“The worst year of my life was 2020,” Bortolotti said. “I never knew if we were going to get back here. A lot of people had to make a lot of sacrifices. Everyone took it with a smile on their face. Leaders of companies are really judged on how they handle those situations.

The Pfaff Motorsports No. 9 Porsche on track during the 2023 Roar Before the Rolex 24 at Daytona (IMSA).

“As much as it hurt not racing in 2020, it was the way we handled it and came back, which allowed us to continue building what we had started in ’19 and ’20. If you look at ’21, you see a huge ramp up of our results after Watkins Glen (in late June). We finally got to go back to testing and learning and getting back in the swing of things.”

After winning the 2022 Rolex 24 and the GTD Pro championship with Pfaff, its trio of Jaminet, Matt Campbell and Felipe Nasr moved on to Porsche Penske Motorsport in GTP. It’s another sign of Pfaff’s appeal to world-class drivers.

“They want our car,” Bortolotti said. “I feel this pressure that these guys are finding me on Instagram and DM’ing to request us. That’s kind of cool. You have the seat that everyone is wanting.”

Steve Bortolotti, Pfaff Motorsports general manager

He believes the team’s success of as a customer team that can beat factory-backed operations is a preview of the future in GT professional racing.

“They’re spending how many of millions to compete, and we’re paying them to do it,” Bortolotti said. “So from a business standpoint, it’s quite attractive for them to be in this situation.

“I think the days of a full factory effort, as financial changes happen in a global economy, are numbered. The way we’ve done it with commercial support and raising money and partnering with a factory where they put some in, we put some in. I think that’s truly the way forward in pro level GT racing because there is something to sell. There is no reason for one manufacturer to have to pay for it all themselves. It doesn’t really make sense at the end of the day if one person is spending $5M to go racing.”


The team will have a factory-level talent with the return of Vanthoor as its endurance driver in a lineup that also includes Patrick Pilet (a 2015 GTLM champion and 2014 Rolex 24 winner) and Klaus Bachler. In addition to new drivers, the team also has a new car in the Porsche 911 GT3 R (992).

There was no bitterness over a reunion between the team and Vanthoor, who was lobbying Bortolotti to return just months after his heartbreaking defeat in last year’s Rolex 24.

Daytona is the only long-distance race missing from the CV for Vanthoor, who has won the 24-hour races at Le Mans, Spa and Nurburgring. The Belgian driver told NBC Sports he “cried like a baby” on the cooldown lap and then needed 10 minutes alone to regain composure.

But he then sent congratulations to his former and future team.

“With Mathieu and Pfaff, that was the first thing I did was congratulate them and give them a handshake because they are very good friends,” Vanthoor said. “And we were there trying to win and they fair and square won. There’s nothing to be angry about; I have a ton of respect for them. And that was it.

“There were no hard feelings. I was very happy for Pfaff to win it.”

Laurens Vanthoor has rejoined Pfaff Motorsports after a one-year absence (Jordan Lenssen/IMSA).

Bortolotti said Vanthoor requested a spreadsheet with mugshots of all the Pfaff team members so he could greet everyone by name upon his return.

“After (the 2022 Rolex 24), I gave him a big hug, and I was heartbroken for him because I knew how bad he wanted it, how hard he tried and how great a fight he put up,” Bortolotti said. “I’m excited to have him back. He’s a great guy. We want redemption for him as a team as much as he wants redemption for the finish last year.

“It’s almost been a cool way to motivate our guys to try to do it again because we got it last year, let’s get it for Larry this year. We’re extremely motivated to get him his Rolex this year because we get ours last year.”

A Pfaff Motorsports mechanic works on the No. 9 Porsche during a December test at Daytona (Jordan Lenssen/IMSA).