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The Hendrick Band Re-assembles For The 24

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, February 1 2021

NASCAR champion Chase Elliott was back on the road this weekend in Daytona over the weekend.

For one day and one night, the band got back together and it came tantalizingly close to producing in a smash hit.

The band was composed of past and present superstars at Hendrick Motorsports and it assembled in the paddocks of Daytona International Speedway for the weekend’s 59th running of the Rolex 24.

On hand were seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion driver Jimmie Johnson, four-time champion Jeff Gordon, seven-time champion crew chief Chad Knaus, reigning Cup champion Chase Elliott and a hand-picked assortment of Hendrick wrench-turners.

Most were gathered around the No. 48 Action Express Cadillac DPi car that Johnson would co-drive around the DIS infield road course.

Johnson, who stepped away from Cup after the 2020 season, was there to satisfy a part of his post-NASCAR bucket list: to drive different types of cars in different venues of racing – after the 24, he is headed into IndyCar to drive for Chip Ganassi racing.

Of the 24, he told reporters, “I am so excited to be uncomfortable and so excited to learn something new, so excited to drive these cars and really kind of grow as a driver and have a bunch of new experiences in life.

“It makes me feel more alive than I have in quite some time.”

The team put Johnson in the cockpit for the race-opening stint.

Johnson, 45, and his teammates came within 4.7 seconds of winning on Sunday as he and co-drivers Kamui Kobayashi, Simon Pagenaud and Mike Rockenfeller, finished second to the  No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Acura.

The runner-up finish was Johnson’s third at the Rolex. It may have been his favorite.

“That was a long race as we all knew it would be,” Johnson said. “Kamui’s commitment at the end to pick up a couple more spots was so impressive. Of course, we always want more. This is my third second-place finish in this race. This is a special one and I’ll keep coming back. It’s just a very special race.”

Knaus, who is currently the vice president of competition at HMS but was on the box for all seven of Johnson’s Cup championship runs, managed the show. He spent the weeks leading up to the event hand-picking Hendrick crew members.

“I picked them because of their diverse background,” Knaus said. “Scott Honan is athletic; he’s got some road racing experience and he’s got a passion for it. Michael Carber is just a great all-around mechanic and racer. It seems to me that if you get a racer, he can adapt to just about any environment, so I felt like Michael would be a good asset to us. Cal Stewart is a really good engineer and he has a passion for road racing, as well. Plus, he’s young and athletic. And then we have Orane Ossanski, and I feel like he, once again, is very multi-faceted. He’s mechanically inclined, an athlete, young and part of our current pit crew with the No. 24 car.”

Gordon, who won the event in 2017, was in the paddocks and on pit road to offer whatever he could.

Elliott co-drove the No. 31 Caddy for Action Express. He shared the wheel with Mike Conway, Pipo Derani and Felipe Nasr. They started from the pole after winning last weekend’s qualifier.

After his first stint, Elliott sounded rather gloomy. Among other things, he called his inaugural sports car racing “terrible”.

Things got better for him in subsequent stints. Unfortunately, mechanical problems beset their DPi machine with five hours left and they fell 22 laps off the pace.

Better luck next time and Elliott said he dearly hoped there will be a next time.

“Just really appreciate these guys letting me be here,” Elliott said after the race. “It’s been a lot of fun. This is quite the event. What an amazing race this is. (An) honor to be a part of it. I hope I get to come back and apply some of the things I’ve learned and be able to be more of a help next time around. Just really enjoyed my time.”

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, February 1 2021
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