DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) - An aggressive early pace at the Rolex 24 at Daytona led to a track full of debris, a rough start for the favorites and led veteran drivers openly wondering why teams were pushing so hard in the starting stages of an endurance race.
``Absolute madness,'' a bewildered Dario Franchitti said. ``There's some aggressive driving out there, huh?''
That was an understatement.
The twice-around-the-clock race began in unusually warm temperatures at Daytona International Speedway, where drivers set a furious pace from the drop of the green flag Saturday. It created numerous spins, several accidents and overshadowed the early struggles of the heavily favored Chip Ganassi Racing teams.
It also had many worried that the pace would only pick up once night fell.
``I'm 100 percent convinced people will go faster because of the heat,'' said Max Angelelli of SunTrust Racing. ``It's going to be cooler, cars go faster, you have fresh drivers. It's going to be faster than this for sure.''
Drivers had differing opinions as to why teams were risking so much when the idea is to still be running at the end of the race.
``Nobody's leaving any margin,'' Franchitti said. ``Even the experienced guys who know what they're doing, some of them aren't leaving a margin for anything. And then there's some guys who don't know what they're doing and they're just hanging on out there and they're creating some of accidents, too.
``Everything's coming at you pretty quickly, so you have to leave yourself somewhere to go in case somebody does something crazy in front of you. There's bits of car lying everywhere. Already, two hours in, there's more car on the track than I've ever since. It's been very intense.''
Scott Pruett, a three-time winner of the prestigious road race, said the pace felt like the end of the race.
``It seems like it's more reminiscent of the last two hours of the 24 instead of the first three hours of the 24. People are driving crazy,'' Pruett said. A lot of drivers are trying to prove themselves, a lot of guys think they can win it in the first couple of stints. So you're seeing guys run really aggressive for no good reason.''
It could play right into the hands of the Ganassi teams, which had problems before the first hour was even complete.
Scott Dixon had the first issue in the No. 02 BMW Riley, which blew a right rear tire that put the team a lap down because of the change. After he handed off driving duties to Franchitti, the car again blew the same tire.
The tire issues dropped the No. 02 to 17th in the Daytona Prototype class, but Juan Pablo Montoya had cracked the top 10 during his driving stint. Nobody at Ganassi seemed worried about the No. 02 getting back into the race.
``If that's our biggest problem, we're going to have a pretty smooth race,'' Dixon said. ``It doesn't change anything. It's 24 hours. There's still a long ways to go.''
The No. 01 had to stop right after Dixon's tire problem to change the gear box. Pruett had to wait inside the car as it took nearly double the time - more than four minutes - to make the change. But Pruett drove a double stint, got the car back on the lead lap, and by the time Memo Rojas took over, the No. 01 had cracked the top five.
Rojas had worked his way into the lead with 19 hours remaining.
``We just worked our way right back to the front after losing a lap. It's just superb,'' Pruett said. ``I'm being very cautious and we're running incredibly fast times. We're just going to keep doing what we're doing.''
Five-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the second stint for Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing and had the car in eighth when he turned it over to Jon Fogarty. But Johnson knew the car was struggling with a brake issue, and figured they'd have to go in for a lengthy repair whenever a caution fell.
As he was explaining the issue, he saw the No. 99 being repaired.
``Did we get a yellow? I hope? No? Oh,'' he said.
Johnson, on one of only three three-driver teams, was looking forward to extended driving time in later stints, but was still adapting to the nuances of both a non-NASCAR race and the hectic pace of this one.
``It is so hard to not turn someone around and get rid of them. With the Cup car, you can do that easily. With these cars, it will end your day,'' he said. ``I had to stop myself a few times. After two or three times getting chopped, I thought, `Man, if you were in a Cup car, you'd be sitting there backed in right now.'
``If Kevin Harvick was in one of these, I think he'd just run them over.''
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