Jeff Gordon interested in 24 Hours of Le Mans but isn’t sure if he’ll race the NASCAR entry

Jeff Gordon Le Mans
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Jeff Gordon is interested enough in the 24 Hours of Le Mans next year to “go play around” once Hendrick Motorsports takes delivery of its specially modified Camaro.

But the NASCAR Hall of Famer and Hendrick Motorsports vice chairman stopped short of declaring himself ready to come out of racing retirement for the first time since being part of the winning overall team in the 2017 Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“As far as competing (again), I don’t know,” Gordon said Thursday morning during an interview with “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM’s NASCAR channel. “This Le Mans program looks interesting. Probably going to do a little simulator work for them. My last race was the 24 Hours of Daytona. I love that event. We had good success by winning it with Wayne Taylor Racing and with Cadillac.

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“And so this program is something that would be exciting to go to Le Mans. I want to be a part of it. We are a part of it with Hendrick, but I just don’t know if I’ll be able to get behind the wheel and drive it in that race. I’m certainly going to go play around with the car when we get it. Play around with the simulator and see if it’s something that’s realistic.”

There have been few hints about the driver lineup since the announcement last month of NASCAR’s expected return to Le Mans in 2023 with Hendrick fielding a Camaro ZL1 as the “Garage 56” entry in the 100th edition of the sports car classic.

The program will be overseen by Hendrick vice president of competition Chad Knaus, who has been calling strategy since last year in IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship races for the No. 48 Cadillac that includes Hendrick’s seven-time Cup champion, Jimmie Johnson.

When asked about the driver lineup for Le Mans during a March 17 news conference for the project at Sebring International Raceway, team owner Rick Hendrick said with a laugh that “we’re going to put Gordon on a diet, and then we’ll get Jimmie back.”

Johnson since has talked about racing Le Mans with Hendrick, who also would like to have an active Cup star as part of the expected driving trio for the race.

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Rolex 24 veterans Kyle Larson (whose versatility fits the bill well) and Chase Elliott would be natural candidates (and Corvette driver Jordan Taylor also would be an option with Le Mans experience).

But before settling on drivers, there still is much to be done, including formal approval by the ACO (the race’s organizers) and finalization of the car’s specs. It’s expected the car would have a hybrid engine, and it would need other major adjustments (working lights, durable brakes, etc.).

“There’s a lot involved,” Gordon said. “You’ve got Dallara, one of the primary partners, that’s going to build a one-off chassis that, underneath the skin, is going to be quite a bit different to be able to run 24 hours — the powerplant, the fuel cell, the tires. There’s a lot of things that are in the plans and a lot of work to be done between the folks at IMSA, Chevrolet, Hendrick and NASCAR.

“It’s going to be a fun project but also a very challenging one. In a short period of time, you think next June is plenty of time to prepare, but it’s not an easy task. We’re so far in the early stages that it’s hard to really get you any really solid answers on how everything is coming together right now.”

Somewhere on that list of unknowns is the availability of Gordon, who clearly would be an appealing choice as a four-time Cup Series champion whose highly marketable personality and transcendent popularity still would resonate in France and around the world.

Gordon, 50, occasionally still drives in a Hendrick program called “Track Attack” that brings older, modified Cup cars to club tracks (such as The Thermal Club near Palm Springs, California). But he said it’s unlikely he would attempt a NASCAR one-off similar to Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Xfinity Series at Martinsville Speedway last week.

“I don’t want to say never,” said Gordon, who retired from full time Cup competition after the 2015 season and returned to make eight starts in 2016 as a substitute for Earnhardt. “I just have so much respect for the competitors, for the effort it takes to build a car and put a team out there. I want to make sure whatever that effort is, that my effort would equal it, to be able to go have fun and be successful. I just don’t see where I have the time to do that these days.”

Even if the former USAC dirt-track star would have liked a shot this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“I’m still bummed out that I’m not back out there because I really would have loved to have driven a stock car on dirt,” Gordon said, pausing to laugh. “And no, that’s not going to happen in the future.”

The 24 Hours of Le Mans, though, long has interested Gordon, who spoke about the possibility six years ago.

“I’ve always said that if the right opportunity came along I would like to,” Gordon told Reuters in a February 2016 story. “If I feel healthy enough with my back. Physically fit enough to handle the (high gravity forces) … make the lap times. It would definitely be the goal.”

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images

Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.