Monday, June 24, 2024

Mike Rockenfeller: “I can only say sorry if I was holding up [Chase Elliott] there”

On most days, Mike Rockenfeller is close with Hendrick Motorsports, having collaborated with the team on their successful 24 Hours of Le Mans Garage 56 entry in June and being tapped to race the #42 for HMS ally Legacy Motor Club at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Watkins Glen. The Indianapolis race was one of the exceptions as Hendrick driver Chase Elliott was not too pleased with Rockenfeller being lapped traffic while he was chasing down Michael McDowell for the win.

In the closing laps of the race, Elliott was about two seconds behind McDowell before coming up on Rockenfeller and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. racing next to each other. Elliott tried to look for an opening, but it took time for him to actually lap the two. Although lapped cars are expected to yield to those ahead of them, Rockenfeller and Stenhouse had been fighting for the free pass that would have placed them back on the lead lap in the event of a caution; another yellow flag ultimately never came, while Kevin Harvick would have gotten the pass if it did as he finished a spot ahead of Rockenfeller for that spot.

The duel cost Elliott time that he tried to narrow down the gap to the leader, with McDowell ultimately holding him off for the win. Elliott went to talk with Rockenfeller after the race, and the latter was apologetic but felt he ran fast enough to not be a hindrance to Elliott’s run.

“I think our pace was okay, but at the end I can only say sorry if I was holding up the #9 there a little bit. I tried not to; I know they were not very happy so I’m sorry for that. I will look into that,” said Rockenfeller. “I did what the team asked me to do: go by the #47 to be the lucky dog if there was a yellow, which I did, and as soon as I did that, I let Chase go. I saw him in my mirror close, but again, I need to learn that. The last thing I wanted to do was to hold him up from trying to win the race, especially with my connection with Hendrick and the past we had. I can only say sorry, but in my opinion, I had good pace and it’s not like I was holding him up. If he had been closer, I would have moved like I did for Michael.”

Rockenfeller, the 2010 Le Mans and 2013 DTM champion, was making his third career Cup start and first of 2023 in replacement duty for the suspended Noah Gragson. Despite qualifying a paltry thirty-seventh for the struggling Legacy Motor Club, co-owned by his Le Mans Hendrick team-mate Jimmie Johnson, he was able to run in the twenties. On lap 21, he and Jenson Button—another team-mate at Le Mans—received speeding penalties.

Despite the penalty and situation with Elliott, Rockenfeller still finished a career-best twenty-fourth.

“I think I didn’t do a great job on my end, we didn’t have the best car, that’s for sure, but we made small progress and learned a lot for next week,” he commented. “The big mistake was clearly my speeding in pit lane which shouldn’t have happened. Leaving the pits, I basically saw the lines and realised I should have gone at the other lines so that wasn’t very good. That was bad, and we got a drive through which cost us a lot of time.

“Today, we didn’t have many cautions, so I was focusing on my driving on the car; what it’s doing, what we can improve, and what we need to work on. Didn’t have many restarts to play and to learn, so probably more next week, but yeah, there is a lot of stuff that I have to work on with the team.

“To work with Hendrick and be a part of that programme was amazing, and definitely, it did help. It was a lot of work, but it was great to work with one of the best teams in the world. For sure, it was great, and the plan was to take something out of it for myself as well as get better as a driver. And yeah, I hope I got better from that. I think today was not bad if you look at the pure race pace we had, so we need to work harder for next week.”

Next Sunday, Rockenfeller will make his second start for the team at Watkins Glen where he finished his NASCAR début last year in thirtieth.