Jeff Gordon is interested enough in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans to “play around” once Hendrick Motorsports receives its specially modified Camaro.
But the vice chairman of the NASCAR Hall of Famers and Hendrick Motorsports was close to agreeing to come out of retirement for the first time since he was part of the winning overall team at the 2017 Rolex 24.
“As far as (re)competition goes, 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’ll probably do some simulator work for them. My last race was the 24 Hours of Daytona. I love this event. We’ve had good success, winning with Wayne Taylor Racing and with Cadillac.
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“It would therefore be exciting to go to Le Mans with this programme. I want to be part of it. We’re part of it with Hendrick, but I just don’t know if I can get behind the wheel and drive in this race. I’ll definitely play around with the car when we get it. Play around with the simulator and see if it’s something realistic.”
Since announcing NASCAR’s expected return to Le Mans in 2023 last month, there have been few references to the driver roster, with Hendrick fielding a Camaro ZL1 as the “Garage 56” entry in the 100th New edition of the sports car classic. The program will be overseen by Hendrick Competitions Vice President Chad Knaus, who has been strategizing at IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship races since last year for the No. 48 Cadillac, which also includes Hendrick’s seven-time Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson.
Team owner Rick Hendrick joked during the press conference announcing the Le Mans project, “We’re going to put Gordon on a diet and then bring Jimmie back.” Johnson has since spoken to Hendrick about racing at Le Mans, who also likes an active cup star as part of the expected driver trio for the race.
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Rolex 24 veterans Kyle Larson (whose versatility fits the concept well) and Chase Elliott would be natural candidates (and Le Mans-experienced Corvette driver Jordan Taylor would also be an option).
But before agreeing on the drivers, there is still a lot to be done, including formal approval by the ACO (the organizers of the race) and the finalization of the car specifications. It is expected that the car would have a hybrid engine and it would need other major adjustments (working lights, durable brakes, etc.).
“There’s a lot at stake,” Gordon said. “You have Dallara, one of the main partners, who will build a one-off chassis that will be quite different under the skin 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 that needs to be done between the people at IMSA, Chevrolet, Hendrick and NASCAR.
“It will be a fun project, but also a very challenging one. In a short time you think that next June is enough time to prepare, but it is not an easy task. We’re so far into the early stages that it’s difficult to give you really solid answers on how it’s all coming together at the moment.”
Somewhere on that list of unknowns is the availability of Gordon, who would clearly be an attractive choice as a four-time Cup Series champion whose highly marketable personality and towering popularity would still resonate in France and around the world.
Gordon, 50, still occasionally drives in a Hendrick program called “Track Attack,” which takes older, modified Cup cars to club tracks (like The Thermal Club near Palm Springs, California). But he said he was unlikely to attempt a NASCAR singles race similar to Dale Earnhardt Jr. in last week’s Xfinity Series at Martinsville Speedway.
“I don’t want to say never,” Gordon said. “I just have so much respect for the competition, for the effort it takes to build a car and bring a team to market. I want to make sure whatever that effort is, that my effort matches it in order to have fun and be successful. I just don’t see where I have the time for that these days.”
Although the former USAC dirt track star would have loved to have raced at Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend.
“I’m still depressed that I’m not back out there because I really would have loved to have driven a production car on dirt,” Gordon said, pausing to laugh. “And no, that won’t happen in the future.”