‘Good to get new eyes on sport’

As soon as news hit of NASCAR and its Next Gen likely heading to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Jordan Taylor naturally checked on his Cup Series connections.

“I texted (Hendrick Motorsports VP of Competition) Chad Knaus saying, ‘If you ever need some help or input, I’ll come test it if you want’ or something like that,” the Corvette Racing champion said Wednesday in a Zoom news conference with reporters. “I think it’s exciting. It will be cool to bring a lot of NASCAR eyes to Le Mans who haven’t seen it before. It might be confusing for them to see a one-off Cup car racing against Hypercars and things like that, but it will be good to get some new eyes on the sport.”

As a three-time Rolex 24 at Daytona overall winner and a two- time GTLM champion in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Series, Taylor, 31, bridges both the sports car and stock car worlds as much as anyone.

NEXT GEN AT LE MANS: Questions, answers analysis about the NASCAR project

Last year, he wore a special Dale Earnhardt tribute helmet at Le Mans (and later made a well-received guest appearance on the Dale Jr. Download), and he had Jeff Gordon as a teammate in the Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac that won the 2017 Rolex 24.

Gordon has been mentioned by team owner Rick Hendrick as a candidate to drive at Le Mans in the Next Gen Camaro that will be overseen by Knaus.

Hendrick also has been in touch with Jimmie Johnson, and Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson also would seem options as Rolex 24 veterans and with Hendrick wanting an active Cup driver.

Having been part of the 2015 GTE Pro class winner at Le Mans, Jordan Taylor also has been bandied about by fans on social media as a potential candidate for the NASCAR-proposed Garage 56 entry next year. But he said Wednesday that he hasn’t been contacted about driving the Hendrick-prepared car.

<em>Jordan Taylor (IMSA)</em>

Jordan Taylor (IMSA)

“I’m sure they’ll want some big NASCAR names, which makes sense to take them over there,” said Taylor, who will make his eighth 24 Hours of Le Mans start in a Corvette this June. “Racing around Daytona for the Rolex 24 against guys like Kyle Larson, those guys know what they’re doing on road courses these days. I don’t think they’ll need a lot of help. Maybe some tips on what to know about Le Mans to help prep the car and understanding what curbs you want to abuse and things like that. From a car durability standpoint, that would be interesting for them to understand.

“As far as drivers, I’m sure they have a humongous list to go through. My commitments right now are to Corvette and Corvette Racing. I wouldn’t want to take anything away from that.”

Taylor, whose Gordon-inspired Rodney Sandstorm alter ego has become a hit with NASCAR fans, has been angling at making his stock-car debut for a while. He had an offer from an ARCA team and was in discussions with a Cup team about racing in the Aug. 14-16, 2020 race weekend on the Daytona International Speedway road course. Taylor also helped Hendrick drivers with preparing setups for that Daytona race on the Chevrolet simulator in Huntersville, North Carolina.

Though his offer stands to help Hendrick with advice and tips for Le Mans, he also knows the team “will have a lot of smart guys on it. From a European perspective, you look at NASCAR and see stock car racing and it looks pretty basic from the outside. These big metal machines racing around an oval.

“Being on the inside and seeing the engineering behind what they do and how much research and development they have, you know they are going to have a lot of smart guys working on it and developing it. It’s going to be an interesting project.”

Taylor’s 2022 season is off to an intriguing start. After struggling to a 30th in the Rolex 24 season opener, he and C8.R Corvette co-drivers Antonio Garcia and Nicky Catsburg rebounded with a class victory in the Twelve Hours of Sebring that “was pretty much perfect. No one in the car made any mistakes, all the pit stops were perfect, and the strategy kept us out front. It was one of those days everything went our way.”

After consecutive titles in the now-defunct GTLM division, the No. 3 Corvette moved this season to the new GTD Pro category that includes a common tire among teams.

“Daytona was definitely a struggle,” Taylor said. “We did a two-day test between Daytona and the Sebring race. We made some big gains from a setup point of view, understanding the tire and what makes it work. This car was designed around using the confidential tire, so we did huge setup swings at that test and found a ton of lap time just in that, plus compliance and durability of the tire and understanding how to make the tire work over a stint and not just a lap. Just little details like that brought us closer to the window.”

Taylor and Garcia next will race April 9 in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, which will kick off the IMSA Sprint Cup schedule. The race will begin at 5 p.m. ET on USA and Peacock.

Jordan Taylor intrigued by NASCAR Next Gen at Le Mans: ‘Good to get new eyes on sport’ originally appeared on NBCSports.com