Jimmie Johnson Ready To Roll In Rolex 24 At Daytona With Reigning Series Champions Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing
Nascar Cup Champion Joins Texas Gainsco Team For Best Shot Yet In The 24-Hour Classic
DALLAS (January 21, 2008) -- Jimmie Johnson remembers exactly when and where he was when he decided to get serious about winning the Rolex 24 At Daytona, the yearly kick-off race of the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series season which has become an annual and all-day All-Star showcase of the world's top auto racing talent the last few years.
He was at home in North Carolina, relaxing on his couch and watching the 2006 race on SPEED.
"I watched Casey Mears, a great friend of mine, win and I watched the event on television," Johnson said. "I said, 'You know, I finished second in this thing and I've got to work hard to find a ride that I can go down there and have a chance of winning with.'"
What Johnson has found is a team that has won at Daytona and just about every other track in the Rolex Series and one that also holds, like Johnson, the title of reigning champion. GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing won the 2007 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Team and Driver Championships in dominating fashion and has enlisted Johnson to join its all-start lineup of drivers to win the one race that escaped them the last few years -- The Rolex 24 At Daytona. This year's race will be run on January 26 -- 27 and you can see the start live on FOX at 1 p.m. on Saturday the 26th with the majority of the rest of the race live on SPEED.
In what will be his fourth career Rolex 24 start, Johnson is hungry to win this prestigious sports car race co-driving the No. 99 Lowe's/GAINSCO Auto Insurance Pontiac Riley with teammates Alex Gurney, Jon Fogarty and Jimmy Vasser.
"Being in a lineup with guys like this, it's really a dream come true to come down here and compete and be a favorite for this event," Johnson said after a test at Daytona earlier this month. "I think it's time to race. I feel great in the car and I got a lot of laps here today. I am really looking forward to coming back."
The Rolex 24 At Daytona was about the only thing the GAINSCO team didn't win last year. While Johnson was setting the pace on the NASCAR Cup tour, GAINSCO, Gurney and Fogarty were the undeniable pacesetters in the Rolex Series. The team won a record seven times, led all but one race and started every event from the front row. Ten of the front row starts were from the pole, including a record-run of nine consecutive first-place starts that stretched from the May race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca all the way to the season's penultimate event at Infineon Raceway in late August. The team took the championship lead with its seventh victory at Infineon and sealed the crown in September one race later in the season-ending SunChaser 1000 at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah. The end result was first-time championships for team owner Bob Stallings, the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing team and the talented American driving duo of Gurney and Fogarty.
The on-track accomplishments of GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing have been synonymous in success with the incredible growth of Dallas-based GAINSCO Auto Insurance. GAINSCO, which distributes policies exclusively through a network of thousands of independent agents across the Sunbelt, began its affiliation with motorsports in 2005 to increase marketing efforts with agent partners in targeted sales regions. Using the racing team as a central brand icon and rallying point through its "Are You Driven? ®" campaign, the motorsports sponsorship has been credited with contributing in part to GAINSCO's recent corporate success. After annual sales of $48.9 million in 2004, GAINSCO reached $206.5 million in revenue in 2006.
While hard-earned success has come for GAINSCO in both the business world and on the race track the last couple of years, the Rolex 24 truly represents the next major conquest for the team. Part of GAINSCO's strong 2007 season was a win in the July Brumos Porsche 250 at Daytona -- like NASCAR, the Rolex Series makes two annual visits to Daytona -- but an almost bizarre loss at the Rolex 24 to open the season was definitely the low point of the year. Gurney qualified on the pole and led the opening laps before a freak contact incident with a GT-class race car -- a Porsche had its hood break loose and block the vision of its driver -- and later mechanical problems forced eventual retirement and season-low finish of 22 nd.
"We're very dispirited," Gurney said, "but at the same time we knew we had 13 more races to climb back into championship contention. "While we realized it wasn't going to be easy, we also didn't expect the fight to come down to the last race of the season at Miller, either."
It's that type of championship resolve that no doubt attracts Johnson to the GAINSCO team. At the same time, the NASCAR star's proven talent behind the wheel is also a huge plus for the reigning Rolex Series champs. In addition to repeat titles, making up for the Rolex loss is one of GAINSCO's main goals for the season, and having Johnson in their corner helps massively. Unlike NASCAR, the Rolex Series uses teams of drivers that take turns racing the car for, in the case of the Rolex race at Daytona, non-stop for a full 24 hours. Obviously, the stronger the driver lineup, the better your chances for winning, but GAINSCO is the only team entered in the top-tier Daytona Prototype class that has four premier class auto racing champions -- including three reigning titlists -- on its roster.
Johnson is no stranger to racing sports cars at Daytona and has run in several Rolex 24 events, finishing a career-best second in the 2005 race co-driving a Pontiac Crawford. He also qualified second -- alongside pole-sitter Fogarty in the No. 99 -- and led this past summer's Brumos Porsche 250 at Daytona in a Pontiac Riley nearly identical to the GAINSCO race car he will co-drive this year.
While driving teams in a single race car is something unique to NASCAR fans that may tune in or head to Daytona to watch Johnson, a few other things make this type of racing a little different. One of the most notable is that two classes of race cars battle on the track at the same time for individual and overall class honors. The slower GT machines, like the Porsche that knocked the GAINSCO team out last year, look more like everyday street cars. The sleek and rear-engine Daytona Prototypes, like the one Lowe's/GAINSCO race car that Johnson will drive, on the other hand are purpose-built for racing and can hit speeds approaching 200 mph. Traffic, especially with about 70 race cars entered, is one of the biggest obstacles in the Rolex 24.
Other challenges include rain and night driving because the race will not stop if it rains and the event goes a full 24 hours in distance. Half of it is run at night and, in addition to windshield wipers, competing race cars have headlights, tail lights and even brake lights. The doors open too so driver changes can be made.
It is definitely a different challenge than what Johnson is used to but the Rolex 24 is an event that he wants to win as badly as any race he has ever entered.
"I'm here strictly to win," said Johnson, the two-time defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion and 2006 Daytona 500 winner. "I will have fun during the event and all that but this team is a championship winning team, a race winning team and we're here to win the race."