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Why Chase Elliott Is Giving 2023 Le Mans Event The Cold Shoulder
NASCAR will be participating in next year's fabled endurance race 24 Hours of Le Mans for the first time since 1976, but don't expect to see Chase Elliott there.
For the first time in nearly five decades, NASCAR will have a car racing at next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, but if you’re hoping to lay eyes on stock car racing’s golden boy Chase Elliott, think again. Despite being run by his team at Hendrick Motorsports, Goodyear and the International Motor Sports Association, the 2020 Cup Series champion recently declined to participate in NASCAR’s experiment abroad, in which the organization will enter a modified Chevy Camaro ZL1 Next Gen car into the fabled endurance-focused sports car race.
Aside from hopefully amplifying the league’s brand in both France and Europe in general, there’s little at stake for drivers in the publicity stunt because NASCAR will enter a vehicle through what’s called a “Garage 56" entry, signifying it’s not competing since there are no other cars in its class. Instead, the Next Gen car will operate in more of an honorary capacity meant to highlight automotive innovation.
Catching up with reporters last week prior to his second-place playoff finish at Bristol, Elliott explained why he wouldn’t pilot NASCAR’s modified Chevy in what will be the centennial anniversary for Le Mans.
“The reason being is because there’s no competition in the class,” No. 9 revealed. “I want to go and compete. And that’s the part that I enjoy, seeing where you stack up against other competitors and where I can do better and just kind of challenging myself and pushing myself.”
“When there’s no other cars in the class, that would take a take a large piece of the fun out of it for me," Elliott added. “I don’t really have a ton of interest in the way the way that is right now. Maybe if it changes down the road, sure. But not this one.”
With NASCAR having just released its 2023 schedule last week, finding a driver with as much star power as Elliott will be difficult as Le Mans conflicts with Cup and Xfinity Series races at Sonoma Raceway that same weekend of June 9-11.
As speculation mounts over whom will captain the ship, now that Elliott has signaled he’s no longer a viable option, Chevrolet racing executive Jim Campbell has been recruiting other drivers to fill the role, and as NBC Sports reports, Mike Rockenfeller might just be the guy.
Having won both the Rolex 24 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans overall titles in 2010, the German driver is an interesting choice because he has experience in the Cup Series after Watkins Glen in August where he placed 30th. Through his partnership with Jimmie Johnson in several past endurance races, Rockenfeller’s also familiar with Hendrick Motorsports, and Johnson has shown interest in gearing up for Le Mans. If Johnson signs on, Jeff Gordon, who won four Cup Series titles for Hendrick Motorsports and competed in the 2017 Rolex 24, may join his former teammate.
Though adding Johnson and Gordon to complete the HMS trifecta sounds promising, they'd still be missing a current superstar, making losing Elliott – who fans voted as NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver for four consecutive years – even more of a tough pill to swallow. That said, for someone like No. 9 who lives to compete, giving NASCAR drivers a “real” reason to race at future Le Mans events could dramatically open the doors to landing a big fish in 2024 and beyond.
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