FORT WORTH, Texas – Jimmie Johnson has spoken with Rick Hendrick about the proposed “Garage 56” entry at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the seven-time Cup Series champion “definitely” is interested.
Hendrick and NASCAR unveiled plans last Thursday to enter a specially modified Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro in next year’s race at Le Mans. Its approval is expected to be a mere formality, and Hendrick said during a news conference that Johnson was on the list of candidates for the three-driver lineup in the car, which would be built by Hendrick Motorsports and its IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship partner team, Action Express.
“I haven’t talked to Jimmie yet,” Hendrick said at the announcement in Sebring, Florida. “I’m sure he would do it if he didn’t have a conflict.”
Johnson, who was on a family vacation in Mexico last week before finishing a career-best sixth in IndyCar at Texas Motor Speedway, said he got a brief call just after the announcement from Hendrick, who wanted to be sure Johnson saw the news. They made plans to chat at length later about the project, which will be overseen by Hendrick vice president of competition Chad Knaus (the crew chief for Johnson’s seven titles who now handles strategy on his IMSA car).
“I definitely am interested,” Johnson said after NTT IndyCar Series qualifying at Texas. “I haven’t had any serious talks. I knew Action was looking at it. I know there’s interest for me to be in the car. I know Mr. Hendrick would love for me to be in the car, and Chad’s been at the track. So there’s all this synergy that’s existing there, and honestly, that synergy is what kind of led to this opportunity.
“I just need to make sure I’m available, and I want to go there and race. I’ve been working in the direction of racing in LMDh (IMSA’s new top prototype next year) and LMP2. I’m pursuing pathways to be racing there in one of those two divisions, but this could be a unique opportunity to go experience Le Mans for the first time. But then I still don’t know what my IndyCar schedule is (for 2023), and if IndyCar has the weekend off. So there’s still a lot to be sorted out.”
Johnson is in his second season of driving endurance races for the Hendrick-Action Express collaboration’s No. 48 Ally Cadillac.
Could the Garage 56 entry also pair Johnson with Ally, which sponsored his final two seasons in NASCAR?
“I feel like Mr. Hendrick probably would have the best chance to bring Ally over,” Johnson said. “I certainly have a great relationship with them, and they want to go everywhere that I race. I’m not sure they have an interest in racing in France, and if it’s really good for them businesswise. Clearly, there’s a lot of coverage here in the U.S. where it might make sense. A lot of those are best left in Rick’s hands. He’s the master at really negotiating all those deals.”
Hendrick also will spearhead assembling the driver lineup, which could feature a trio of Cup champions from Hendrick. In addition to Johnson, Hendrick mentioned an active Cup driver could be a possibility for Le Mans. Hendrick drivers Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson are Rolex 24 at Daytona veterans, and Elliott said last weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway that Hendrick had talked to him about the possibility.
“I’m not super up to speed on it,” Elliott said. “I think it would be a lot of fun to go do that event one day. I’m not sure it’s really possible the way our (Cup) schedule is (that has yet to be announced for 2023). I don’t know 100 percent how that is going to line up but certainly would have interest in it. I just don’t think logistically that’s going to work for any of us, but we’ll see. We will just have to wait and see how the schedule falls.”
Hendrick Motorsports vice chairman Jeff Gordon also was named a driver candidate by Rick Hendrick, who joked he would need to put the retired four-time Cup champion on a diet to get the NASCAR Hall of Famer in race shape.
“Rick’s the only one who can say that,” Johnson said with a laugh.