Why NASCAR is competing at Le Mans – the world's biggest race

100 years of Le Mans

NASCAR is going racing at Le Mans in the Garage 56 category – we look at why it's doing it, who's driving it and what changes have been made to the car

2 NASCAR Garage 56 Le Mans

NASCAR is back at Le Mans for the first since 1976


This year the US’s most popular form of motor sport, NASCAR, celebrates its 75th birthday.

To mark the momentous occasion, America’s premier stock car championship will be entering the world’s biggest race: the 2023 Le Mans 24 Hours.

A Next-Gen Cup series machine, modified for the intense rigours of 24 hours pounding round La Sarthe, will run under the ‘Garage 56’ banner, a one-car category ostensibly for prototypes using innovative technology lesser seen in other disciplines of racing. It won’t be part of the official classification.

Driving the NASCAR will be no less than 2009 Formula 1 champion Jenson Button, 7-time NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and 2010 Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller.

The car ‘competing’ will be a Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro, run by Hendrick Motorsports – NASCAR’s most successful team running a car manufactured by its most successful brand.


Why is a NASCAR racing at Le Mans?

NASCAR Garage 56 Le Mans

NASCAR is celebrating its 75th anniversary


NASCAR this year celebrates its 75th birthday, and is looking to commemorate the anniversary by promoting its brand on the world stage.

There are few bigger to do so than the centennial running of the Le Mans 24 Hours which, as in previous years, has a Garage 56 slot reserved for innovative and experimental cars. Others to have filled the slot in the past decade include the Nissan Deltawing, Frédéric Sausset’s SRT41 team featuring drivers with physical disabilities and the electric ZEOD RC.

Despite being a series still immersed in its American Deep South roots, the series was previously the world’s most popular form of motor sport, but has since been surpassed by Formula 1, propelled in part by the massively popular Drive to Survive TV series.

Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship wants to make it big in America too, so the association works both ways.

“From the early days of NASCAR, it was important to my father that we played a visible role in international motorsports, and there is no bigger stage than the 24 Hours of Le Mans,” NASCAR CEO Jim France said.

“In partnering with Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, we have the winningest team, manufacturer and tire in NASCAR history. We look forward to showcasing the technology in the Next Gen car and putting forward a competitive entry in the historic race.”


Who is driving the NASCAR entry at Le Mans?

NASCAR Le mans Garage 56 team photo

NASCAR Garage 56 drivers have a plethora of top-tier championships between them


NASCAR has chosen three champions from wildly varying backgrounds to pilot its Garage 56 entry.

Jimmie Johnson is one of NASCAR’s most successful ever competitors, and is considered one of the all-time greats along with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.

Johnson’s first Cup title came in 2006 – and he followed it up with four more consecutive titles after that, as well as another two in 2013 and 2016.

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He has 83 Cup wins and also competed in IndyCar for two years, qualifying 12th at last year’s Indianapolis 500.

2009 Formula 1 champion Jenson Button will be joining Johnson in the Camaro.

After making his debut in 2000, the man from Frome, Somerset, campaigned for nearly a decade before claiming his only world title with Brawn, thereafter joining McLaren, finishing his full-time F1 career with 15 grand prix wins.

In an eclectic career since, has since competed in Super GT in Japan (winning the title in 2018), WEC with the Russian SMP team (including Le Mans in 2018), Extreme E, British GT, Nitro RX and a NASCAR appearance at the Circuit of Americas early this year.

Completing the three-man team will be German Mike Rockenfeller. A veteran of both Le Mans and DTM, he claimed a GT class win at La Sarthe in 2005 before winning overall with Audi in 2010, as well as the Daytona 24 Hours the same year.

He claimed the DTM title also in 2013 and, like Button, has made select NASCAR appearances.


Can the NASCAR entry win Le Mans?

No: Garage 56 cars don’t have to comply with technical rules and so aren’t part of the official Le Mans classification. The drivers wouldn’t be on the podium even if the car crossed the line first.

To avoid that uncomfortable situation, organisers ensure that all Garage 56 entries are slower than the frontrunners, which also reduces the chances of it interfering with the race.


How has the NASCAR entry been modified for Le Mans?

1 NASCAR Garage 56 Le Mans

The Next Gen NASCAR has been modified to make it La Sarthe-ready


NASCAR has been at pains to emphasise just how much of a genuine Cup car this is, but the Chevrolet Camaro has naturally had to have some changes to make it more suited in going up against Hypercars, LMP2 and GTE machines.

The chassis and crash structure is of the car is largely the same, while the Camaro has retained its small block V8 engine, which produces 670bhp. It also keeps a largely the same suspension system, but from here the similarities end.

Much of the bodywork features carbon composite elements not seen on a traditional Cup car in a bid to save weight. The weight of the car has gone down from 3,485lb (1,580kg) to 2,960lb (1,342kg).

“In a project like this, there’s very few areas to just take massive chunks of it out,” Brandon Thomas, Vice President of Vehicle Design at NASCAR, tells Motor Sport.

“So you’re really looking to shave a certain percentage off of everything.

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2023 Le Mans 24 Hours full entry list
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2023 Le Mans 24 Hours full entry list

Here is the full entry list for the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans, complete with every driver from the Hypercar, LMP2, LMGTE-AM and Garage 56

By Motor Sport

“Things like the body work were a prime target to upgrade the composite [through] the lamination of the parts and lose the mass that way.

“The chassis got quite a bit of attention with composites in some of the firewall areas, propshaft tunnels and things like that.

“The carbon brake system [as opposed to NASCAR’s standard steel brakes] was kind of twofold where you get improved thermal performance but also a good mass reduction.

“But there are a lot of parts on this car that are directly off the shelf Next Gen Cup car parts. So those aren’t necessarily any lighter than what is used on any given Sunday there in NASCAR.”

The car features various added winglets as well as a new undertray and splitter to increase downforce through La Sarthe’s famous Dunlop, Porsches Curves and Indianapolis as well as a bigger fuel tank, going up from 20 gallons (90 litres) to 32 gallons (145 litres). The tank was also moved from near the rear of the car to a more central position, allowing the designers to elongate the rear bumper structure.

Instead of a manual sequential gearbox, the Garage 56 car features a paddle shift unit, with a more typical prototype/single-seater steering wheel to facilitate this.

It has wider rear tyres than a standard Cup car – 13.5 inches compared to the usual 12 inches. Also differing to the Cup series is Goodyear’s development of intermediate and wet tyres not used in regular NASCAR races.


How fast is the NASCAR Next Gen car at Le Mans?

The NASCAR Garage 56 entry is faster than expected: in practice sessions, it was quicker than the GTE-AM cars and this continued in qualifying, with a best lap time of 3min 47.976sec lap time. That was 23sec off the Hypercar pace, but 4sec faster than the quickest GTE-AM entry.

That has forced a change in its grid position. As an unofficial entry, it was due to start at the back, but at the request of teams, who weren’t keen on the car trying to muscle past 21 slower GTE cars at the start, the NASCAR entry will now start ahead of them, and behind the faster Hypercar and LMP2 pack.

The car’s top speed on the Mulsanne Straight is around 180mph, with GT cars hitting almost 190mph, but the huge engine torque required to shift the heavy Camaro allows it to make gains on corner exit.

NASCAR Le mans Garage 56 2 photo

Garage 56 machine has shown impressive pace so far



Has NASCAR raced at Le Mans before?

NASCAR machinery has competed at Le Mans before – in 1976, almost half a century ago.

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Two cars from what was then called NASCAR’s Winston Cup arrived at Le Mans officially to recognise the bicentenary of America’s Declaration of Independence, but in reality was were part of a wheeze to combat dwindling La Sarthe entries and spectator interest.

A Dodge Charger and a Ford Torino were the pair of machines proffered. Unlike the Garage 56 effort, neither car was optimised for Le Mans, and suffered as a result.

“Much further back down the field lurked two of the huge NASCAR stock cars, but they were neither the latest nor the fastest examples of their breed and as expected proved too heavy, bulky and unwieldy to be at home on a road circuit,” Motor Sport reported at the time.