Lowe's/Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing Rallies For 2nd Place Finish In Rolex 24 At Daytona For Best Season Start Ever Gurney, Fogarty And Johnson All Lead As Vasser Handles Rain And Gearbox Woes DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (January 27, 2008) --...
Lowe's/Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing Rallies For 2nd Place Finish In Rolex 24 At Daytona For Best Season Start Ever
Gurney, Fogarty And Johnson All Lead As Vasser Handles Rain And Gearbox Woes
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (January 27, 2008) -- Reigning Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Champions Lowe's/GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing recovered from an early Sunday morning gearbox change to finish second in this weekend's 46th Annual Rolex 24 At Daytona, avenging last year's early defeat in this race with the team's best start to a racing season in its young history.
Alex Gurney, Jon Fogarty and Jimmie Johnson all led the race at various points in the Rolex 24 while Jimmy Vasser did some heavy lifting of his own with an outstanding performance in the rain on Saturday and enduring the team's rapid-fire 10 minute gearbox change Sunday morning.
"I am proud of everybody on the entire Lowe's and GAINSCO team," said team owner Bob Stallings, who rarely left the team's pit-side operations during the 24-hour race. "We had a championship lineup of drivers and they did exactly what was asked of them all day long. Everybody on the team did an amazing job but unfortunately our gearbox didn't."
Fogarty was in the midst of his second stint of the race just before sunrise on Sunday when the gearbox woes began. He held steady on the track and was actually gaining on race leader Memo Rojas but the problems gradually grew worse. Soon after Vasser took over at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday, the gearbox became even more difficult and the No. 99 Lowe's/GAINSCO Auto Insurance Pontiac Riley was taken to the garage under green flag conditions for the one and only time in the race.
"My guess is that if we would have changed the gearbox under yellow instead of green, we probably would have won, but you make your best decisions and run with it," Stallings said. "It was a little bit chaotic. We were all arguing for about 15 minutes on if we should stay out because Jon was in the car and was gaining on Rojas. We left him out there but then the problems started to get worse and we made the decision to switch."
With Vasser staying strapped in the car, the Lowe's/GAINSCO team changed the gearbox internals (along with the rear brake pads) in just 10 minutes and returned to the race at 8 a.m. Now in sixth place and six laps down, the team quickly got down to business. Vasser began the charge, handed off to Johnson who moved up to second just before Hour 21 and then Gurney, who took the wheel with two-and-a-half hours left in the race and drove the Lowe's/GAINSCO race car to the checkered flag. In the end, the deficit was cut to two laps as the No. 01 TELMEX/Chip Ganassi Racing team won the Rolex 24 for the third-straight year.
"It's almost better to finish fourth on something like this," Vasser said. "Second, you were kind of close. We were there pretty much all night long, just sticking to the plan, taking care of the car. Typical story, it's a long race and to get bit like that as late as we did, it kind of stinks. On a positive note, we gave the team some points for the championship. I would put money on these guys again for getting a repeat in the Rolex Series. This is a great group of people and a great group of sponsors in Lowe's and GAINSCO. I don't get to drive cars that much any more, so it is good to get back in the rhythm and get the fight back in your soul."
For the Lowe's/GAINSCO squad, the fight began from the beginning. Along with several other top contenders -- including the winning No. 01 Ganassi entry -- the team hit the pits during the parade laps to switch to slick tires and ended up starting well down in the field in a race that was frequently run in damp and rainy conditions. Just 30 minutes after the green flag, however, starting driver Gurney was in second place and then took the lead for the first time just past the one-hour mark. From that point on, the Lowe's/GAINSCO team never dropped out of the top 10 and frequently ran in the top three for the majority of the race, with even the gearbox delay being costly but not keeping them out of the lead group for long.
"This is the Rolex 24," Gurney said. "This is a big race. It's very difficult to get through it all without making any mistakes. I'm really proud of being able to race with all these guys. They all did an excellent job. I had a lot of fun. It's a bit of a bummer that we could not pull out a win. We were watching the board all the time to see the No. 01 up there and us right below to know that any little thing that could go wrong might put us up front. We were hoping, but it didn't work out, but we're in good shape for the championship."
Despite the narrow loss this weekend, the result is nearly a victory compared to last year's Rolex 24 disaster. In that race, 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 a season-low finish of 22nd. The team had to fight tooth-and-nail for the rest of the season to win the Rolex Series titles.
"I'm very pleased to help the team out in getting second place points," said reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Johnson. "Last year they had to go on a tear to win the championship. Hopefully this gives then a better start for the season. I am happy to see that for them. In some ways, coming to run the Rolex Series, in the past, it's really been a release of sorts and something to have fun with. But coming in, having the honor for these guys to invite me to the team and come drive for them, I'm thinking championship. That pressure was on my mind just like it would be for a Sprint Cup Series race. I would hate to be the one that kept them from winning a championship this year, so that same pressure was on my shoulders. I was sharing with Jon that I appreciate he and Alex and Bob for inviting Vasser and I for screwing it up and that we didn't."
Fogarty also emphasized the big picture despite the Rolex 24 near miss. After last year's poor finish and a 14th-place showing in its first full season in the Rolex Series in the 2006 Rolex 24, this weekend's result is the best start to a season championship yet for the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings team.
"We were a little discouraged from our test days and our qualifying efforts," Fogarty said. "We were all looking one another in the eye and telling each other a top-five finish would be great. We were convincing ourselves of that, but each and every one of us knew we were fooling one another and wanted to win this damn thing. It's good. This is a championship we are after and we're certainly in a good position for that."
In total, Lowe's/GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing led 83 of the race's 695 laps, with Gurney setting the pace three times for 36 laps, Fogarty up front on three occasions for 34 laps and Johnson leading a single time for 13 laps.