Heavily favored Ganassi teams regroup in Rolex 24 Print
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Saturday, 29 January 2011 17:10
NASCAR Headline News

 DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) - The two Chip Ganassi Racing entries rallied from early issues and an unusually aggressive pace to get back in contention in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Both the No. 01 and No. 02 BMW Riley cars fell to the back of the Daytona Prototype class because of problems just shy of the one hour mark in the twice-round-the-clock race that began Saturday afternoon.
The first problem hit the No. 02 when Scott Dixon blew a right rear tire. Shortly after, Scott Pruett took the No. 01 to pit road to change the gear box.
Despite the setbacks, nobody seemed worried.
``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.''
Dixon was spot on with his assessment.
Both Ganassi cars moved through the field at Daytona International Speedway, even after a second blown tire on the No. 02 while Dario Franchitti was driving. Memo Rojas took the No. 01 to the lead, and Juan Pablo Montoya drove the No. 02 from 12th to first as the race rolled toward Sunday morning.
Winners of three straight Rolex races from 2006-08, Ganassi is trying to get back to Victory Lane in the prestigious endurance race after consecutive second-place finishes.
It helped that two of the team's top challengers - SunTrust Racing and Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing - both had problems just as the Ganassi cars began their rally.
Five-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson warned the Gainsco team about brake problems after his second-leg stint, and he was in the middle of his post-drive news conference when he saw on a television monitor the car being worked on in the garage.
``Did we get a yellow? I hope? No? Oh,'' he said.
A second mechanical problem while Jon Fogarty was driving dropped the Gainsco team 28 laps behind the leader.
The SunTrust team had to pit for repairs after contact with both Fogarty and Montoya.
But with so much time remaining, the race was still wide open despite the aggressive early start that led to a track full of debris and had veteran drivers openly wondering why teams were pushing so hard in the starting stages of an endurance race.
``Absolute madness,'' a bewildered Franchitti said. ``There's some aggressive driving out there, huh?''
That was an understatement.
Drivers set a furious pace from the drop of the green flag in an unusually warm temperatures. It created numerous spins, several accidents and overshadowed the early struggles of the heavily favored Ganassi 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.''
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.''
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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