Garage 56 lineup for Le Mans: A sports car star and two past NASCAR Cup champions?

NASCAR Garage 56 lineup
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MONTEREY, California – With an active Cup Series driver ruled out for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the NASCAR Garage 56 Camaro lineup is expected to include one sports car ace.

Speaking with reporters ahead of the NTT IndyCar Series finale last weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Chevrolet vice president of Performance and Motorsports Jim Campbell said “we’re going to have one (driver) that’s a road racing and sports car expert that will complement a couple of other drivers” in the Garage 56 entry that is being prepared by Hendrick Motorsports in a joint effort with Chevrolet, Goodyear and NASCAR.

NASCAR released its national series schedules Wednesday, and the June 9-11 weekend at Sonoma Raceway for Xfinity and Cup will conflict with the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans at Circuit de la Sarthe.

Campbell said there was no expectation for NASCAR to change its schedule to allow for an active Cup driver in the Next Gen entry at Le Mans. But he was expecting to have a Le Mans veteran from outside NASCAR to help lead from behind the wheel.

“A hard-core sports car driver that brings that experience who’s run Le Mans before that can share that with other drivers that have not,” Campbell said.

The sports car veteran is expected to be Mike Rockenfeller, who won the Rolex 24 and 24 Hours of Le Mans overall titles in 2010. The German driver recently tested the specially modified Camaro at Michelin Road Atlanta. He also made his Cup Series debut last month, finishing 30th at Watkins Glen International in the No. 77 Chevy for Spire Motorsports.

Rockenfeller, who has been teamed with Jimmie Johnson on the IMSA endurance race lineup in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac since last year, likely will be paired with the two most successful drivers in Hendrick’s storied history.

Team owner Rick Hendrick has hinted since the March unveiling of the project that he would like seven-time Cup champion Johnson and four-time champion Jeff Gordon in the car.

In revealing his racing plans for next season, Johnson reiterated last weekend that Le Mans is a priority. Gordon recently raced a Porsche on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, knocking the rust off while getting the Hendrick Motorsports’ vice chairman reacclimated to sports cars.

Being in race shape for Le Mans will be critical because the Garage 56 lineup likely will be limited to a trio of drivers, though Campbell has lobbied for more.

“I was interested to see if the FIA and ACO would allow us to bring more than the normal number of drivers,” he said. “I was interested in five or six so we could bring a lot of drivers that are well-known in NASCAR starpower and then let them do a stint or two, but it looks like we’re going to be held to the normal number, which would be three. I’m still going to advocate for it but right now looks like three.”

Gordon was part of the winning entry in the 2017 Rolex 24 at Daytona. Johnson has been logging laps regularly in IndyCar and IMSA the past two years.

The Garage 56 entry is being spearheaded by Hendrick vice president of competition Chad Knaus, who led Johnson to seven titles as a crew chief and has called strategy for Action Express’ No. 48 Cadillac.

Next year will mark the return of NASCAR to the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the first time in nearly 50 years. The modified version of the Chevrolet Next Gen Camaro ZL1 will serve as the prestigious race’s “Garage 56” entry, a single-slot class that has been reserved for innovative automobiles since its 2012 introduction.

Kyle Larson wins third consecutive High Limit Sprint race at Eagle Raceway, Rico Abreu second again

Larson High Limit Eagle
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It took four attempts for Kyle Larson to win his first High Limit Sprint Car Series race in the series he co-owns with brother-in-law Brad Sweet, but once he found victory lane, he has been undefeated with his win at Eagle (Nebraska) Raceway. For the second week, Abreu led early only to fall prey to Larson.

The win was Larson’s third straight victory and the fifth consecutive top-five, giving him a perfect sweep of the season after finishing 10th in last year’s inaugural race at Lincoln Park Speedway in Putnamville, Indiana.

Larson started third behind Abreu and Brent Marks but was embroiled in a fierce battle with Anthony Macri for third during the first dozen laps. Larson slipped by Macri in traffic until a red flag waved for a flip by Lachlan McHugh.

Meanwhile at the front of the pack, Marks retook the lead from Abreu on Lap 18. Larson followed one lap later and then caution waved again. Tyler Courtney lost power and fell to 24th after starting eighth.

Marks scooted away on the restart but tragedy struck in Lap 26. Leading the race, Marks hit a pothole in Turn 1, bicycled and then flipped, handing the lead to Larson.

Abreu caught Larson again during the final laps and in a reprise of their battle at Tri-City Speedway, the two threw sliders at one another for several laps until Larson built some separation and ran away to the checkers.

“I didn’t feel like my pace in [Turns] 1 & 2 slowed down a ton,” Larson said from victory lane. “I missed it once there and then I saw his nose in 3 & 4. I didn’t know if he nailed the bottom that well behind me and I think he might have slid me in the next corner, so he was definitely on the top.

“I was nervous to move up there because my car was really pogoing up in the entry of 1. I got up just in time, made a few mistakes and he threw a couple more sliders at me but he was just a little too far back and I was able to squirt around him. Then I really had to commit to hitting my marks – back my effort down a bit to avoid mistakes.”

After leading early, Abreu fell back as far as sixth, but faith in his car kept hope alive.

“I just needed to do a few things a few laps before I did and fix some angles, then my car got a whole lot better,” Abreu said. “I’m thankful for this team; they do an amazing job. They don’t give up on me. I know my car is going to be there right at the end of these races, so it’s just the discipline of being patient.”

For Abreu, it was his third near-miss this season. He was leading at Lakeside in the 2023 opener until a tire went flat in the closing laps and he lost the lead to Larson late in the Tri-City Speedway race. Abreu has finished sixth or better in his last three High Limit races with each result being progressively better until his pair of runner-up results.

Third-place finisher Scelzi was the hard charger, advancing from 17th.

“I had a very specific plan; don’t go near [the hole in Turn 1],” Scelzi said. “It worked out. No one wanted to start on the top. I think I gained a couple of rows there on the choose cone and ran the middle, which seemed to be better than right around the bottom.”

Michael “Buddy” Kofoid in fourth and Macri rounded out the top five.

World of Outlaws star and former NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne was one of 41 entrants, but he was not among the 26 starters. He failed to advance to the Main after finishing eighth in the B Main and seventh in his heat.

Feature Results

A Feature (40 Laps): 1. 57-Kyle Larson[4]; 2. 24-Rico Abreu[1]; 3. 18-Giovanni Scelzi[17]; 4. 71-Michael Kofoid[5]; 5. 39M-Anthony Macri[3]; 6. 9-Chase Randall[9]; 7. 26-Zeb Wise[14]; 8. 1X-Jake Bubak[15]; 9. 8-Aaron Reutzel[10]; 10. 14D-Corey Day[18]; 11. 11-Cory Eliason[12]; 12. 5T-Ryan Timms[11]; 13. 88-Austin McCarl[13]; 14. 21H-Brady Bacon[22]; 15. 48-Danny Dietrich[16]; 16. 7S-Robbie Price[19]; 17. 21-Brian Brown[23]; 18. 22-Riley Goodno[26]; 19. 52-Blake Hahn[25]; 20. 15H-Sam Hafertepe Jr[21]; 21. 3J-Dusty Zomer[6]; 22. 14-Cole Macedo[7]; 23. 19-Brent Marks[2]; 24. 7BC-Tyler Courtney[8]; 25. 25-Lachlan McHugh[20]; 26. 53-Jack Dover[24]

2023 High Limit Sprint Car Series

Race 1: Giovanni Scelzi wins at Lakeside Speedway
Race2: Anthony Macri wins at 34 Raceway
Race 3: Kyle Larson wins at Wayne County Speedway
Race 4: Kyle Larson wins at Tri-City Speedway