Jimmie Johnson Joins Alex Gurney, Jon Fogarty and GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Saturday At Daytona
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (January 8, 2011) -- Five-time reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson reunited with GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing, and teammates Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty, Saturday at Daytona International Speedway where all three drivers had ample time at the wheel of the No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Chevrolet Riley in the Roar Before the Rolex 24 Test.
Gurney, Fogarty and Johnson are co-driving in the Rolex 24 for the fourth consecutive year with GAINSCO and the is team looking to improve upon its career-best finish of second in the 2008 edition of the day-long classic. Gurney and Fogarty handled Friday's opening day testing duties and were joined by Johnson after he traveled to Daytona early this morning.
"I think we have won just about every race there is on the schedule, but we've never won this one," said team owner Bob Stallings. "We came very close in 2008, had a second-place, and I think we've been quick enough a number of times to win, but it seems like something always happens. I must say, we're getting a little bit tired of that. I'm really hopeful this year. These three guys have driven together quite a bit. They're very good teammates. We've got a good car, got a good engine package and hopefully this is the year."
In addition to finishing second with Gurney, Fogarty and Jimmy Vasser in 2008, Johnson was also part of the second-place team in the 2005 Rolex 24. Nothing short of a victory is once again his goal this year, which would rank him only with racing legends A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti as drivers who have won both the Daytona 500 and the Rolex 24.
"That would be something special," Johnson said. "I'm back again and I love this series, love this race team, I've developed some great friendships here and I truly respect what Bob has built as a race team and everybody that's involved. The support from GM is amazing, and the relationship that I've had with them over the years, it's great to have the whole in-the-family atmosphere that I've been accustomed to throughout my whole career. I'm excited for the race. I certainly hope to make it three drivers who have won the 500 and have gone on to win the Rolex 24."
Gurney, who turned the No. 99's quickest lap Saturday with a time of 1:41.554 (126.199 mph), shares Johnson's strong desire to conquer the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
"It's the biggest race we do, so it's the one we want to win the most," Gurney said. "I think it's the hardest, as well. You need an absolute team effort and you need to be on top of so many things. To win it is a big statement on your team. I'm very happy to be back and with this lineup again. These guys are all my friends. We love coming here and fighting it out and trying to figure out how to make this car go faster and trying to chase down whoever is in front of us. I'm really excited to be back."
This weekend also marks the fist time the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series has taken to the newly repaved oval portions of Daytona International Speedway. The infield road course sections were also repaved within the last few years.
"It's 24 hours, twice around the clock, and it's just difficult mentally and physically," Fogarty said. "Despite the repaving and the lack of bumps we now have here at Daytona, it's still grueling, not only for us but the crew. We're all trying to get our shut-eye now, because we know we're not going to get any in a few weeks. Our package, with the proven Riley and Chevrolet, it's a proven package, so we're ready to get started."
Gurney has high marks for the newly repaved Daytona circuit.
"It's really nice," Gurney said. "It's obviously super smooth on the oval. Everybody keeps saying that, but it's very noticeable from our seat. The car would tend to do these big lunges when you were on the oval and it would be a big bumpy ride, and now it's just smooth. Also, the transitions coming off and coming back onto the oval are really nice. I think that might make it a little bit easier on the cars, so maybe a few less mechanical issues, I would guess. Maybe that means everybody is going to run even harder."
Johnson took his first laps on the repaved track today with an eye on not only the Rolex 24 but also the upcoming NASCAR season.
"There's just not as many bumps to worry about," Johnson said. "Everything is smoother. There are no paint lines right now and maybe that's where my perception is coming from, and I'm sure the paint lines will go down before long, but the track just is overall more forgiving, I think."
Saturday's schedule closes with night practice that will end at 8 p.m. ET.
"I think the track will be even better at night, even though it's a darker surface," Fogarty said. "There will probably be more contrast between the track and what isn't the track. I like it. They've all but eliminated the big bump down in Turn 1, which, in a way is a shame, because that added a lot of character to it and presented quite a challenge, but at the same time, there's more continuity now. Before, you were on the infield and you were on the oval, now it's all one continuous track, so that's nice. I would anticipate that the smoother surface is going to be easier on the cars and hopefully on the crew."
Gurney, Fogarty and Johnson are all scheduled to test with GAINSCO again on Sunday, the final day of practice in the Roar Before the Rolex 24 At Daytona.