Jeff Gordon interested in participating in NASCAR races at Le Mans

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

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

“As far as racing (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. I’m 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 winning it with Wayne Taylor Racing and with Cadillac.

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“So this program is something that would be exciting to go to Le Mans. I want to be part of that. We’re part of that with Hendrick, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to get behind the wheel and drive him in that race. I’m certainly going to go play with the car when we get it. He plays with the simulator and sees if it is something realistic”.

There have been few hints about the driver lineup since the announcement last month of NASCAR’s long-awaited return to Le Mans in 2023 with Hendrick fielding a Camaro ZL1 as the “Garage 56” entry in the 100the edition of the classic sports car. The program will be overseen by Hendrick’s vice president of competition Chad Knaus, who has been calling the strategy since last year in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship races for the No. 48 Cadillac that includes the seven-time Cup champion. Hendrick, Jimmie Johnson.

Team owner Rick Hendrick joked during the press conference announcing the Le Mans project that “we’re going to put Gordon on a diet and then we’ll get Jimmie back”. Since then, Johnson has talked about competing at Le Mans with Hendrick, who would also like to have an active Cup star as part of the expected trio of drivers 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 would also be an option with Le Mans experience).

But before deciding on the drivers, there is still a lot to do, including formal approval from the ACO (the race organisers) and finalization of the car’s specifications. The car is expected to have a hybrid engine and needs other major tweaks (working lights, durable brakes, etc.).

“There’s a lot involved,” Gordon said. “You have Dallara, one of the main partners, who will build a unique chassis that, under the skin, will be a little bit different to be able to run 24 hours a day: the engine, the fuel cell, the tires. There are a lot of things in the plans and a lot of work to be done between the people of IMSA, Chevrolet, Hendrick and NASCAR.

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

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

The 50-year-old Gordon still occasionally drives on a Hendrick show 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’ll attempt a one-off NASCAR race similar to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s in the Xfinity Series at Martinsville Speedway last week.

“I don’t want to say never,” Gordon said. “I just have a lot of respect for the competitors, for the effort that goes into building a car and putting a team out there. I want to make sure that whatever that effort is, that my effort is equal, so that I can go have fun and be successful. I just don’t see where I have time to do that these days.”

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

“I’m still bummed that I didn’t come back 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.”