NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports celebrate finishing 24 Hours of Le Mans

Hendrick Motorsports team owner Rick Hendrick, left, congratulates seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson Sunday in Le Mans, France. (AP Photo/Jenna Fryer)

LE MANS, France — They started lining up the champagne glasses inside the Hendrick Motorsports garage with 30 minutes remaining in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro wasn’t going to win the most prestigious endurance race in the world — the specialized “Garage 56” entry wasn’t eligible for any class victories — but simply completing a full 24 hours was good enough to declare NASCAR’s massive effort to return to Le Mans for the first time since 1976 a smashing success.


“How’s it feel to take the checkered flag at Le Mans?” team owner Rick Hendrick radioed seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson as he completed the 285th lap for the Camaro around the Circuit de la Sarthe.

“Awesome,” Johnson replied.

Anticipation had built all week for the car dubbed “Le Monster,” in part because it was so different from the rest in the 62-car field, its V8 engine had a distinct rumble that drowned out the competition, and because few had any expectations for the NASCAR entry.

Jim France, owner of both NASCAR and IMSA, had brokered this deal to get NASCAR’s second-year Next Gen stock car into the race as part of Le Mans’ “Innovative Car” class that showcases technology. He then recruited Rick Hendrick, Chevrolet and Goodyear — the winningest team, manufacturer and tire in NASCAR’s 75-year history — to collaborate on the project.

It was a passion project for France, who first attended Le Mans in 1962 with his father, the late NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. His father twice brought NASCAR to Le Mans but failed to come close to finishing the race.

To complete the family dream, France wanted to ensure he had the partners to put forth a top-notch effort that wouldn’t embarrass the racing series that got its start beach racing in Daytona, Florida, and found that North Carolina moonshine runners were its earliest stars.

“I wasn’t going to let that happen,” Rick Hendrick told The Associated Press. “The last thing we were going to do was come here and fall on our nose.”

France was thrilled.

“That was thousands of hours of hard work by hundreds of people that went into making this thing happen. And then the way the team and the pit crews and everybody performed all week, it was just fantastic,” France said. “I hope my dad and my brother are somewhere up there looking down and smiling, but the goal when we set out was to try and finish the race running at the end and not be last. And we accomplished that.”

Hendrick tasked Chad Knaus, winner of seven Cup championships with Johnson, to run the project and told him to spare no expense.

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