Daytona24: Bob Stallings Racing preview

GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing's Team of Champion All Americans Ready For Victory in 2009 Rolex 24 At Daytona DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (January 22, 2009) -- GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing and its team of champion drivers Alex Gurney, Jon Fogarty, Jimmy...

GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing's Team of Champion All Americans Ready For Victory in 2009 Rolex 24 At Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (January 22, 2009) -- GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing and its team of champion drivers Alex Gurney, Jon Fogarty, Jimmy Vasser and Jimmie Johnson will be looking to become the first all-American driver lineup to win overall in the Rolex 24 At Daytona in 16 years this weekend when the 47th annual running of the day-long endurance classic starts at 3:30 p.m., Saturday, January 24 (Live on FOX at 3 p.m. ET).

GAINSCO returns with the same talented foursome determined to improve on 2008's second-place Rolex 24 finish while bringing victory in America's premier endurance race back home to the United States. An all-American team of drivers has never won the Rolex 24 overall since the introduction of the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series in 2000 and you have to go all the way back to the 1993 race to find the last time homegrown talent took top honors. Fittingly, that race was won by the AAR (All American Racers) Toyota Eagle GTP that was entered and run by Gurney's legendary father and AAR owner Dan Gurney and driven by Americans PJ Jones, Rocky Moran and Mark Dismore.

"It would be very special to win this race with an all-American lineup," said Alex Gurney, who grew up watching the success of his father's AAR team in several different racing series. "I guess that has never been done in Grand-Am so it would be something that we could all take pride in. We would have to beat many of the best of the best from all around the world but that is what would make it all the more meaningful."

While the lineup for the No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Pontiac Riley is just one of two all-American driving teams in the premier Daytona Prototype category, GAINSCO's red, white and blue DNA goes much deeper than that. The team's pit crew is made up entirely of Americans and the No. 99 GAINSCO race car is a U.S. made Riley XX powered by a Detroit-built Pontiac engine, a full-race version of GM's iconic small-block V8 that is an American legend in its own right. Taking all of those factors into account, a top-to-bottom all-American team -- U.S. drivers, crew, race car and engine -- has yet to win overall in the long history of Daytona's 24 hour classic.

"When you look at it from that perspective, it is almost humbling to think that GAINSCO can make some real history this weekend," Fogarty said. "After coming so close last year and having AG on the pole in 2007, our motivation is way high as it is, but to think we can make American history in one of our great races is almost daunting. It's not going to change how we go about our race but it would sure make winning that much sweeter."

Vasser and Johnson are key components of GAINSCO's assault on the Rolex 24. First as a champion driver and now as a team owner, Vasser has been one of the premier Americans on the IndyCar scene for nearly 20 years. He is back for his fourth consecutive Rolex 24 with GAINSCO and also scored a class win in the 1992 race in an IMSA GTP Lights Acura Spice with Parker Johnstone and Dan Marvin. Johnson has already entered the realm of American racing legends after winning a record-matching third consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship last year, but he also has the best Daytona Prototype Rolex 24 finishing record of GAINSCO's four drivers. In four previous Rolex 24 starts, Johnson has finished second twice, combining runner-up honors in the 2005 race with last year's podium result with GAINSCO, Gurney, Fogarty and Vasser. He is just as skilled in sports cars as he is in NASCAR competition, and Johnson credits his early career experience in helping him deal with the nuances of endurance road racing.

"My background in dirt track off-road racing, and wet and dry conditions, has helped me in that respect," said Johnson, who showed well racing in the rain in last year's Rolex 24. "There are so many changing conditions at the 24, with the potential for rain, spray and poor visibility. You've got to be well rounded in a lot of areas. Another thing that has helped is my experience in the Baja 1000. It's a sustaining mindset. You can't put a wheel off, you've got to take care of your equipment and still run a strong pace. So there are a lot of skill sets from my off-road days that carry over."

While his early-career off road racing has helped him prepare for the Rolex 24, Johnson doesn't see a lot of similarities between racing a Daytona Prototype and a NASCAR Cup car like the No. 48 Lowe's Impala SS.

"I've had to learn the correct habits to drive a Cup car, but the funny thing is that all of my bad habits in a Cup car make a Daytona Prototype go fast," Johnson said. "So it's fun for me because I can go back to my instincts when it comes to braking, turning and accelerating. What helps on the Cup side is that I've gained a lot of confidence in road course racing and it's helped me learn where to adjust the car."

All four GAINSCO drivers are from California and each has at least one major auto racing championship on his resume. Those are just two of the defining factors that have made this group of champions a threat for victory in this weekend's race. Drivers and teams from 26 different countries will compete in the Rolex 24, but U.S. honors will be primarily riding with GAINSCO.

"With a big international field, I think we all get the sense in a way that we are racing for our country in an event like this," Gurney said. "I feel like the four of us have all become good friends the last couple of years and we're ready to fight it out together."

A little gold thrown in with the red, white and blue, however, wouldn't upset Gurney.

"It also seems that anything Jimmie Johnson touches these days turns to gold so I'm hoping that will transfer over to the 24 this year," Gurney said.

-credit: bsr

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Series GRANDAM