GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing's Gurney, Fogarty, Johnson and Vasser place eighth in Rolex 24 after tough Daytona weekend; champs score solid points despite myriad of problems and late mechanical failure DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 31, 2010) -- ...
GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing's Gurney, Fogarty, Johnson and Vasser place eighth in Rolex 24 after tough Daytona weekend; champs score solid points despite myriad of problems and late mechanical failure
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 31, 2010) -- GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing overcame one of the toughest weekends in team history for a solid eighth place showing in the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona, Jan. 30 -- 31, despite a slew of problems from the onset of Thursday's opening practice straight through retiring from the event with mechanical woes early Sunday afternoon in the race's 21st hour.
GAINSCO's Alex Gurney, Jon Fogarty, Jimmie Johnson and Jimmy Vasser co-drove in the Rolex 24 for the third consecutive year and the teammates have never placed lower than eighth in the day-long endurance classic on the 3.56-mile Daytona International Speedway road course. In addition to this weekend's result, the teammates finished seventh last year and scored a team-best second in the 2008 Rolex 24.
In this year's race, Vasser, who led five laps in the No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Chevrolet Riley in the first part of the race, was running in the top five just past Noon on Sunday when the "Red Dragon" Daytona Prototype lost oil pressure.
"Something got into the oil pump and it started to seize up," said Vasser, who was driving in his third stint of the race. "Then it finally quit and threw the belt off so we had no oil pressure for all the way up to the International Horseshoe and all through the kink. I didn't realize it then and I went all the way up through the gears and back down through the gears, and we had no pressure. Hopefully I turned the engine off in time so it didn't destroy every moving part inside. It wasn't going to make it back to the pits, I knew that."
The heartbreaking result that sent the No. 99 to the sidelines for a rare DNF (Did Not Finish) came after the team had clawed its way back to the top five after an early Sunday morning gearbox change and overcoming other troubles typical in endurance racing. GAINSCO was just beginning to believe that a top-three podium finish was not out of the question when the race-ending problem emerged.
"I hate to say 'that's racing' but it is just that simple," Vasser said. "This team has had a lot of success over the last few years and it is unusual for racing teams to have that much success. It is so difficult to even win, especially a race like this where there are so many outside factors that can happen."
The first unexpected occurrence of the weekend came over two days before the race even started when Johnson was uninjured in a heavy practice accident near the end of Thursday's first practice session. The GAINSCO crew worked until 4 a.m. late that night and, with the help of Riley Technologies and some parts flown to Daytona from Charlotte on one of Johnson's planes, had the No. 99 ready to go for Friday morning practice. Despite missing Thursday's qualifying and starting the race last in the Daytona Prototype field, all four drivers combined to move the GAINSCO machine into contention before the oil pump issue ended their race less than four hours from the finish.
"Pretty heart breaking, really," Gurney said. "So much effort went into this weekend with months and months of planning. Then to have what happened on Thursday and to come back from that, it just took a lot of work from everyone on the team. And then to go more than 20 hours and still be relatively in contention only to have it all come down around us, it was a pretty rough weekend. It also hurts us for the points for the season. It was definitely a down day but we will bounce back."
Johnson also left Daytona determined to rebound from the challenging weekend, which began the reigning four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion's 2010 racing season. He was at the wheel at 4:15 a.m. early Sunday morning when the No. 99 lost first gear. Johnson drove straight to the team's garage for a quick change of the gear cluster and the GAINSCO crew got the team literally back on track just over 12 minutes later.
"I am proud to drive for this team and proud to be a part of it," Johnson said. "The extra work I put on the team on Thursday, I feel terrible about, but we really overcame that and it wasn't an issue in the race. We had a very competitive car, and then unfortunately we lost first gear and then had the engine problem, but I love racing with the team and I love being down here and being a part of it. I look forward to the future."
Fogarty would have taken over the No. 99 from Vasser had the race car continued and conceivably he or Gurney would have driven the GAINSCO Daytona Prototype to the finish. Instead, Fogarty was the only driver on the team to run just two shifts after his teammates all drove three stints.
"It was just a difficult 24-hour round," Fogarty said. "A lot of work for the guys, and even though everybody gave everything they could, in the end something on the motor let go. It certainly happens. It is a tough thing to race an engine for 24 hours straight and we were just pushing it extremely hard the whole time to keep the pace. It was too much for the equipment. You like to have a car where you can leave a little bit on the table. When you run 10/10ths, it is tough on things. I think we will still come away with some points but fifth place certainly would have been good."
Next up for GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing is the Grand Prix of Miami at Homestead-Miami Speedway, March 5 -- 6.