KERSHAW, S.C. – Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson put the Hendrick Motorsports-built Garage 56 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 test car through its latest paces during a session last week at Carolina Motorsports Park.
The 2.279-mile road course hosted the first Garage 56 test since last month’s two-day session at Virginia International Raceway.
"Today was awesome," Johnson said after the test. "I haven’t been in a stock car since November 8, 2020, at my final (Cup Series) race in Phoenix. To get the invite to shake this car down, to get a feel for it and help Hendrick Motorsports get this Garage 56 program going to get some laps on the car was a huge honor."
PHOTOS: See the Garage 56 test car on track at Carolina Motorsports Park
Johnson had yet to run the Next Gen car so last week’s foray with the Garage 56 car was an introduction of sorts. Overall, he felt there were several strides made on the day.
"I don’t know what the current car feels like, but I know this thing verses the car I have driven on road courses before is a monster," Johnson said. "I think we had a very successful day. We had a lot of wet running, which was nice to do. We worked out some balance issues and brake issues there. The track dried up, put slicks on and went much faster than we expected the car would go.
"I think the group is really happy. There is a target speed they are hoping to have with the car and a certain level of performance. Kudos to these folks. They are well on track with where they want to be with the race car."
Johnson’s former crew chief and Hendrick Motorsports vice president of competition Chad Knaus is overseeing the project for the Rick Hendrick-owned organization.
The entry awaits its official invitation to compete in the 100th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans on June 10-11. In March, Hendrick Motorsports announced, in collaboration with NASCAR, Chevrolet, IMSA and Goodyear, its intention to compete in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans a special Garage 56 entry. Garage 56 was introduced in 2012 as a special single-entry class for innovative cars. It allows for creativity without taking away a spot in the traditional starting grid.
Johnson won 83 races during his Cup Series career, driving the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet from 2001-20. Last month, it was announced that he was becoming a part-owner in Petty GMS and would be making a limited number of Cup starts in 2023. He has run some IMSA events for Action Express Racing with Knaus calling those races for the No. 48 Ally car.
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"With my history with Chad, it’s been nice the last two years to work with him and be around and have my foot inside the Hendrick door if you will," Johnson said. "I see a lot of familiar faces – people I haven’t seen in a couple of years. That was a real treat and pleasure."
Mike Rockenfeller, a sports car veteran and part of the winning team of the 2010 24 Hours of Le Mans, piloted the car during last month’s test at VIR. He was also the driver for the test at Road Atlanta.