Conor Daly fitting in nicely with A.J. Foyt Racing

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The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season will be Conor Daly’s first full campaign with A.J. Foyt Racing, but that does not mean he is walking into unfamiliar territory, as he explained during IndyCar Media Day back on January 18th.

“I’ve had a great relationship with Larry (Foyt) and A.J,” Daly said. “They gave me a shot for my first IndyCar test at Sebring before the 2013 season. I love A.J., he’s the man. Larry and everybody down there is just super stoked to get this year going.”

That aforementioned test eventually led to an Indianapolis 500 effort, Daly’s first start in the series, that year, where they finished a modest 22nd. However, it marked a one-and-done at the moment, with Daly focusing much of his career in Europe at the time.

Upon returning to the U.S. in 2015, Daly completed a handful of races for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and one race for Dale Coyne Racing, before Coyne hired him for a full season effort in 2016.

While an 18th place finish in the overall standings may seem inauspicious, Daly expressed enthusiasm about the campaign.

“2016 was fun,” said the 25-year-old, who led 56 laps during the season and finished a career-best second during Race 1 of the Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit. “It was the first chance to do all the events, so it was a big learning experience. A lot of highs and a lot of lows, but generally, I kept progressing through the season.”

Now back under Foyt’s umbrella, Daly joins a completely revamped organization, one that overhauled its engineering staff,  brought on Will Phillips as technical director, changed both drivers, and switched manufacturers from Honda to Chevrolet.

Among the more striking changes, however, is that the team will split its entries in two locations. Munoz’s No. 14 entry will be based out of a Waller, Texas facility while Daly’s No. 4 will be in a brand new Speedway, Indiana shop. While out of the ordinary, the arrangement does not seem to bother Daly, who sees a potential benefit as the season progresses. “I can see both cars (in Speedway) for a considerable amount of time when the races are in the Midwest. I think economically it makes sense and logistically it makes sense, as well, so it could be a real good deal for us.”

Such a litany of changes mean it may take time for everything to gel and strong results may not be immediate. However, Daly expressed great confidence in the team’s preparation and sees good things on the horizon. “Their level of preparation and organization is really impressive,” he said of the team’s off-season work. “As they say, they’re going for quality and not quantity this year, so hopefully we can give them some quality finishes.”

And while A.J. Foyt is not technically running the team anymore, his mere presence serves as more than enough motivation. “It’s cool to have him on our side, I’d say,” Daly said of Foyt’s influence. “It really makes you want to win things for him. You see all these trophies and pictures and all these wonderful pieces of history of racing, and I say, ‘Man, I want to add to this cool trophy box or basically the entire shop of history.”

Foyt is recognized as a no-nonsense personality, yet his influence has not impacted Daly’s sense of humor, as evidenced when he discussed a possible career outside of racing. “I’m trying to start my bid to be on Dancing With the Stars, so I’m wearing shiny shoes. I really want to be on the show,” he quipped, referencing roommate and friend James Hinchcliffe’s stint on the ABC dance competition.

A.J. Foyt Racing completed a private test at Sebring International Raceway and will head to Phoenix Raceway this week for INDYCAR’s first open test of 2017.

Jenson Button joins NASCAR Garage 56 at Le Mans with Jimmie Johnson, Rockenfeller

Jenson Button NASCAR Le Mans
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The NASCAR Garage 56 entry in the 24 Hours of Le Mans will be driven by champions of three major-league series — Jenson Button, Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The lineup of the Hendrick Motorsports-prepared Next Gen Camaro was announced Saturday before the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

NASCAR’s Garage 56 project was announced in March 2022 as a joint effort by NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear. It marks the return of a NASCAR team to Le Mans for the first time in nearly 50 years with Hendrick fielding a Camaro ZL1 as the “Garage 56” entry in the 100th edition of the sports car classic.

It’s long been expected the car would include Johnson, the seven-time Cup Series champion who is returning to NASCAR’s premier series as a driver-owner in 2023. Rockenfeller, the 2013 DTM champion and 2010 Le Mans overall winner, has attended every NASCAR Garage 56 test since last year while racking up simulator testing hours.

The surprise was Button, the 2009 Formula One champion who has become a popular commentator. Rick Hendrick initially said wanted four-time Cup champion and current Hendrick Motorsports COO Jeff Gordon to drive the car, and Gordon had raced a sports car at Indianapolis last year to test his race shape.

GARAGE 56 ANSWERS, ANALYSISMore on the NASCAR-Hendrick entry for the 24 Hours of Le Mans

“Since the beginning of the Garage 56 project, it has been our goal to partner with the top racers in the world to represent us in Le Mans,” NASCAR chairman and CEO Jim France said in a release. “The lineup of Jimmie, ‘Rocky’ and Jenson is everything we could have dreamed of – three elite drivers who have won at the highest levels of motorsports worldwide. As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of NASCAR, we are honored to have these world-class champions help bring the sights and sounds of a NASCAR race car to fans in Le Mans, and across the world.”

Button had one of the most prolific careers in F1 history finishing with 15 wins and 50 podiums on top of his 2009 World Championship and is widely considered one of the top British drivers of all time.

“As a lifelong racing fan, I have always dreamed of racing certain cars, with and against certain drivers and competing in certain events,” Button said in a release. “In June, a number of those dreams will come true in one event when I get to bring NASCAR to the world stage alongside my pals Jimmie and ‘Rocky’ for the 100th anniversary of the most prestigious race in the world. I’m really looking forward to sharing this journey with NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and current and future NASCAR fans from around the world.”

Johnson will make his 24 Hours of Le Mans debut a year after starting his first Indy 500. He has 83 victories in the Cup Series, where he will return for the Daytona 500 next month with his Legacy Motor Club team.

He also has been involved with testing the Garage 56 Camaro.

“I’m super thrilled – it’s been at the top of my bucket list to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans someday,” Johnson said. “To have this opportunity come – and to partner with everybody and this driver lineup – is truly an incredible opportunity and one that I am thankful to be a part of.”

Rockenfeller teamed with Johnson on the No. 48 Ally Cadillac in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2021-22. The German driver has been the lead test driver for Garage 56 and has driven during every on-track test.

“It has been a great journey so far with the whole team and project,” Rockenfeller said. “To be involved as a driver from day one until now was already a great honor, and to now have Jimmie and Jenson alongside me as teammates in Le Mans is unbelievable.”

The car will continue testing with all three drivers next week at the Daytona International Speedway road course. Rolex 24 and four-time IMSA champion Jordan Taylor, who drives for Corvette Racing, will be the team’s backup driver and coach. Taylor also won the GTE Pro class in 2015 at Le Mans, where he has four podium finishes.

The project also is being supported by IMSA GTP team Action Express, whose general manager is former NASCAR executive and Daytona 500-winning crew chief Gary Nelson. Action Express built the first test car for the Garage 56 but since has handed off the project to Hendrick, where it’s being over seen by vice president of competition Chad Knaus (the crew chief for Johnson’s seven championships).

“Action Express got it going and built the mule car, and then Hendrick joined the program, took it from where we had it, and they’re doing a major percentage of the work,” Nelson told NBC Sports. “We just did a test a couple months ago on a wet track. We’ve done a couple of other tests as they were ramping their program up. Now their car is good, tested and running. We’re still involved and here to help. The Hendrick guys have taken the reins, and Rick Hendrick and Chad Knaus are a thrill to work with and doing a much better job. It’s more NASCAR than prototype racing.”