NASCAR drivers excel in the wet at Daytona

Six hours down and eighteen to go. For the NASCAR drivers participating the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the wet track is a new commodity to deal with. For some it's not a problem; for others it's a different story.

#2 Howard - Boss Motorsports Chevrolet Crawford: Andy Wallace, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.
The #2 Howard-Boss Motorsports Chevrolet/Crawford of Andy Wallace, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart has been running in the top five for much of the past hour, even with the slippery conditions caused by rain and many drivers' off-course excursions.

The conditions didn't seem to bother Stewart a bit: "It's actually keeping the temperatures cool; it's nice in these Daytona Prototypes," the 2002 Winston Cup champ said. "At least the rain is keeping us cool inside the car so far," after a very hot testing session prior to the endurance contest.

Stewart's rain experience is "driving to the grocery store and back. That's about it. I've never driven anything in the rain as far as a race car is concerned so this ought to be pretty interesting." Stewart had been listening to Earnhardt Jr. on the scanner during his teammate's stint and remarked, "He's having a pretty good time out there so it doesn't sound like it's just absolutely dreadful and scary. I'm looking forward to it!"

Known for his willingness to drive just about any kind of racing vehicle, Stewart didn't need much advice from Earnhardt Jr. and wasn't going to get much, either: "Tony doesn't need any tips. He's a natural," Earnhardt explained. "You could dump snow out here and he'd probably get around better than any of us. I just told him a few things that I found were very difficult.

"The exit of the bus stop is very slick," Earnhardt advised. "The rain doesn't clear [there] - it runs across there all the time so it's very slick there." He also found that "where I slowed down in [Turn] One, you lost the back of the car a little bit. Other than that it feels great." Earnhardt had plenty of praise for Goodyear's rain tire for this race. "It's awesome. It's almost as good as the slick they've got."

Another NASCAR driver known for his prowess on any type of surface, Robby Gordon managed to place the #09 Spirit of Daytona Racing Pontiac/Crawford Daytona Prototype into harm's way about two and a half hours ago. "We just got into a puddle coming on through the bus stop or chicane or whatever you want to call it - and the thing turned around on me," Gordon explained.

"The whole right rear suspension went. But right now we've got the car fixed and Milka [Duno] is driving it. She said it's very hard to shift so I was just telling her to manage and manhandle that thing," Gordon continued. "We've been back behind the wall for about an hour and 45 minutes. Our goal is to run the 24. We're seeing cars starting to fall out… not a lot of them but it's still early."

#54 Bell Motorsports Chevrolet Doran: Forest Barber, Terry Borcheller, Andy Pilgrim, Christian Fittipaldi.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.
During his Champ Car career, Christian Fittipaldi was known for his prowess in the wet, but the co-driver of the #54 Bell Motorsports Pontiac/Doran Daytona Prototype is "not very happy running in the wet. There's very little grip and I guess the conditions are the same for everyone out there, so we just have to make the best of what we've got," he said, even as his car circulated in the top five heading into Hour #7.

"The car is running beautiful. There were some problems with the gear shift strategy and now we have to lift a little bit," Fittipaldi explained. "apart from that, it was just the normal [racing] and I'm happy. Last year we were telling jokes to each other the whole weekend because, unfortunately, we didn't run well. It looks like we're pretty strong this year and hopefully it's going to stay like this. There's still a lot of time to go and a lot of stuff can happen, but I'm pretty happy with the way everything has run."

Kyle Petty was trying to see through the windshield of his #45 Gunnar Racing Porsche Fabcar but finding the going tough when his windshield wipers gave up during the fourth hour. Despite slowing to aid his visibility Petty had a little spin but regained control and continued.

Into the seventh hour, the NASCAR troops were looking pretty good, with the #2 car of Stewart and Earnhardt leading, Fittipaldi's mount in second place, Petty and partners in 20th and Gordon's group way back in 47th.