NASCAR Drivers’ Teams Finish 1-2-3 In Rolex 24 At Daytona

Score one for Chip Ganassi Racing With Felix Sabates which, with its No. 01 Telmex Lexus-Riley Daytona Prototype on Sunday, captured the first of Speedweek’s string of big races held annually at Daytona International Speedway.

And score 1-2-3 for NASCAR, as each of the top three finishing cars in the Rolex 24 At Daytona were co-driven by stock car regulars.

Ganassi/Sabates drivers Juan Pablo Montoya, Dario Franchitti, Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas shared driving duties throughout their 2,474-mile (695-lap) journey in the Rolex 24, which began the almost nonstop Speedweeks racing action that closes this year with the 50th running of Daytona 500 on Feb. 17. Montoya and Franchitti both drive for Ganassi/Sabates in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Winning his third Rolex 24 title in a row, Ganassi nonetheless started looking forward.

“It’s a great start but we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us this year and I’d like to get a few more wins at Daytona before the year is out,” Ganassi said, referring to NASCAR’s upcoming races at Daytona and his team’s Dodges that will be driven by Montoya, Franchitti and Reed Sorensen.

The runner-up car Sunday also featured NASCAR flavor, as two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson teamed with Jimmy Vasser and 2007 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series driving champions Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty to finish two laps behind in the No. 99 Lowe’s Home Improvement/GAINSCO Auto Insurance Pontiac-Riley.

“I truly love this event,” Johnson said afterward of his fourth Rolex 24 appearance in five years. “I wish we could’ve won.

Johnson, though one of the fastest drivers on the track in the overnight rain, was nevertheless more concerned about what might be if he didn’t keep his car between the lines.

“These guys had a job to do and I would hate that I’d keep them from winning a championship this year,” Johnson said. “I was pretty focused on just keeping the car out of trouble and bringing it home safely.

In third place was the No. 9 Toshiba Pontiac-Riley from Penske-Taylor Racing, with 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Kurt Busch sharing the wheel with Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe.

Montoya became the first driver to win his first two Rolex 24 races and joined Mario Andretti and Dan Gurney as the only drivers to have won the Rolex 24 along with at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup and Formula One race.

Regardless of past success, Montoya was a bit nervous toward race end.

“For the race’s last 25 minutes the three of us (Franchitti, Montoya, Rojas) were in the motor home just sitting around, waiting,” Montoya said. “Not waiting to win, but to break down.

Ganassi praised Franchitti’s professionalism, singling out the driver’s nighttime stints which involved driving on tires he’d never before experienced.

“I had no way to know what would happen when I went out on them,” Franchitti said. “I just worked into the lap times we needed over the first three or four laps I was in the car. It was pretty interesting to say the least.

Receiving similar praise from IndyCar Series driver Ryan Briscoe was Kurt Busch, likewise initiated into a different sort of racing in foreign conditions.

“Here I was, doing 200 mph in the wet and at night on the banks. I was grinning ear to ear,” Busch said. “I’m going to ask my wife for permission to do this again next year.

NASCAR drivers not only figured prominently in the race’s top three finishing positions but throughout the grueling sports car race. A rundown follows:

A.J. ALLMENDINGER – The No. 6 Michael Shank Racing Ford-Riley was in the race lead until a suspension part broke just after dawn Sunday. Allmendinger, along with Burt Frisselle, Ian James and John Pew finished 14th overall.

BORIS SAID – The No. 50 Blackforest Mustang Cobra GT of Said, John Farano, Carl Jensen and John Cloud broke at about 9 p.m. Saturday but returned Sunday morning after extensive repairs. It finished in 54th place.

JOHN ANDRETTI – The No. 03 Vision Racing Porsche-Crawford with co-drivers Vitor Miera, Anthony Foyt IV, Ed Carpenter and Tony George finished 25th overall.

MICHAEL MCDOWELL – The No. 09 Spirit of Daytona Porsche-Coyote with co-drivers Guy Cosmo, Marc-Antoine Camirand finished 15th.

MAX PAPIS – No. 72 Autohaus Motorsports Pontiac GXP.R with co-drivers Lawson Aschenbach, Tim Lewis Jr. and Craig Stanton finished 30th.

ANDY LALLY – No. 66 TRG Porsche GT3 Cup with co-drivers Bryce Miller, Ted Ballou and Richard Westbrook finished 10th overall and second in GT class.

COLIN BRAUN – No. 61 AIM Autosport Ford-Riley with co-drivers Mark Wilkins, Brian Frisselle and Andrew Ranger led the race with Braun at the wheel but later experienced mechanical difficulties during Ranger’s following shift and was soon withdrawn from the race. It finished 48th.

JOEY HAND – The No. 23 Ruby Tuesday Porsche-Crawford led the race Sunday morning with Hand in the driver’s seat but suffered terminal engine problems before he ended his shift. The driving team of Hand, Bill Auberlen, Patrick Long and Andy Wallace finished 36th.