In celebration of NASCAR’s 75th anniversary, the sanctioning body took on one of the biggest challenges it ever faced—the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

About two years of development went into the Garage 56 entry, the innovative and experimental division of the race. NASCAR was accepted for the centennial Le Mans race to race a slightly modified Next Gen Chevrolet in collaboration with Hendrick Motorsports. A lineup of 24 Hours of Le Mans overall winner Mike Rockenfeller, Formula 1 World Champion Jenson Button, and seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson represented NASCAR’s foray into endurance racing.

There were many unknowns heading into the race, but what NASCAR did throughout the week was nothing short of amazing. The car qualified four seconds faster than anyone in the GTE class, which no one expected. During the race, the team completed 285 laps (approximately 2,413 miles) and had over 20 hours of flawless racing where they stayed out of trouble, didn’t get in the way of anyone else, and were at one point classified 27th out of 62 cars and ahead of the entire GTE class. The team technically wasn’t in a class, but the GTE class was the closest comparison to the Next Gen car.

Their only issue was a drivetrain problem around the 21-hour mark, forcing the team to spend over 90 minutes changing the gearbox. The delay temporarily put a damper on the American party, but it didn’t stop the team from fixing the car and sending it back out to finish the race. The Camaro finished 39th, which would’ve put them 10th in GTE.

Among the fans, everyone in France was mesmerized by the sound of the loud V8 engine. Noticeably louder than the other cars, it was music to the ears of the primarily French and European crowd enjoying the race.

What’s next for NASCAR? Personally, I would want to see them race in Le Mans next year. If it’s a Garage 56 entry, that’s fine. It might be too early to ask about a NASCAR class at the World Endurance Championship, but let’s have a NASCAR class in IMSA. NASCAR owns IMSA, so have a NASCAR class there. That’ll potentially bring over NASCAR teams and drivers to IMSA and get NASCAR fans to watch endurance racing. Then, if the idea grows, take it to the FIA and the ACO and get sanctioned for the World Endurance Championship and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Anyone associated with NASCAR should be proud of what they accomplished this weekend. They didn’t come close to winning overall, but that’s not the point. Finishing is still an accomplishment, and they captured the hearts and minds of the crowd while outperforming many on the grid.

NASCAR was welcomed and respected by the racing world. There weren’t jokes about how the cars only turn left and how they don’t race in the rain. They were treated as equals and earned worldwide respect. People won’t remember where the team finished; they will remember seeing a stock car do something no one ever thought would happen and be competitive. This will be the takeaway from an incredible weekend.

[Photo: Hendrick Motorsports]

About Phillip Bupp

Producer/editor of the Awful Announcing Podcast and Short and to the Point. News editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. Highlight consultant for Major League Soccer as well as a freelance writer for hire. Opinions are my own but feel free to agree with them.

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