NASCAR Around The Clock: Stock Car Flavor Abounds In Rolex 24 At Daytona NASCAR Participation Following Long-Standing Speedweeks Tradition At Daytona DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 18, 2008) -- Renewing a tradition while reinvigorating a classic...
NASCAR Around The Clock: Stock Car Flavor Abounds In Rolex 24 At Daytona
NASCAR Participation Following Long-Standing Speedweeks Tradition At Daytona
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 18, 2008) -- Renewing a tradition while reinvigorating a classic event, NASCAR drivers are returning again to the sports car spectacle that annually kicks off Speedweeks -- the Rolex 24 At Daytona, Jan. 26-27.
Stock car drivers disguised for several days as road racers -- it's nothing new at Daytona International Speedway, site of the Rolex 24, a round-the-clock endurance event that, strangely enough, started off as a comparable sprint -- the three-hour Daytona Continental in 1962. Immediately, the concept attracted NASCAR types; in '62, the man who was perhaps NASCAR's first marquee star, Fireball Roberts, hopped into a Ferrari and finished 12th in a race won by a sports car/open wheel legend in the making named Dan Gurney.
The race expanded to 12 hours in 1964. Cale Yarborough was there with fellow NASCAR regulars G.C. Spencer and Bill Wade, co-driving a Chevrolet Corvette to a 29th-place finish. In '66 came the full-blown move to 24 hours; Bobby Allison co-drove a Chevy Corvair that lasted only 63 laps and finished 57th.
NASCAR involvement went beyond the novelty stage in 1976. The Rolex 24 field included eight actual NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars. The group was even accorded its own class designation -- Grand International, the name applicable because the class was also added to the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans later that year.
Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion David Pearson teamed with his son Larry and two others to win the Grand International title in a Ford Torino and finish 16th overall.
And so it has gone through the years, a steady stream of NASCAR involvement with highlights aplenty:
In 1983, Darrell Waltrip and A.J. Foyt -- future and former Daytona 500 champions -- co-driving an Aston Martin that broke down early -- allowing Foyt to switch to co-driving the eventual race-winning Porsche 935 owned by Preston Henn.
In 1984, Terry Labonte and Billy Hagan co-drove a Camaro to the GT1 class victory and finished seventh overall -- a precursor to their season of winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.
In 1995, Mark Martin winning one of his four production-based class titles, co-driving to GTS-1 victory, in a Ford Mustang fielded by Jack Roush. In 2001, the father-son team of Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr. finishing fourth overall and second in the GTS class, co-driving a Chevrolet Corvette.
In 2006, Casey Mears, joining open-wheelers Dan Wheldon and Scott Dixon to win the Rolex 24, in a Lexus Riley fielded by Chip Ganassi. In 2007, new NASCAR competitor Juan Pablo Montoya co-driving to victory in a Lexus Riley, while four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon made his Rolex 24 debut and co-drove to a third-place finish.
And now, in 2008, with two-time and reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson heading yet another NASCAR contingent that includes former NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Kurt Busch, AJ Allmendinger, Montoya and another open-wheel convert, last year's Indianapolis 500 champion Dario Franchitti, Montoya's teammate in the defending championship Lexus Riley entry of Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Johnson, who finished second in the Rolex 24 back in 2005, is a co-driver for the 2007 Rolex Series championship team of GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing.
"I watched Casey Mears, a great friend of mine, win in 2006; I watched the event on television," Johnson said. "I said 'You know, I finished second in this thing and I've got to work hard to find a ride that I can go down there and have a chance of winning with. It's really a dream come true to come down, compete and be a favorite in the event. I'm here strictly to win."
Around The Clock And Through The Years: NASCAR In The Rolex 24
1962 Fireball Roberts
First installment of Speedweeks sports car race, a three-hour event called the Daytona Continental. Roberts drove a Ferrari and finished 12th. Two weeks later he won the Daytona 500.
1973 Tiny Lund
The popular former Daytona 500 champion co-drove a Pontiac Firebird, finishing 48th.
1976 David and Larry Pearson
They finished 16th overall and first in the one-time Grand International class created because eight NASCAR race cars entered the Rolex 24.
1983 Darrell Waltrip
Co-drove an Aston Martin with A.J. Foyt. Car broke early in the race and Foyt shifted over to the eventual race-winning Porsche 935 team.
1984 Terry Labonte
Co-drove with Billy Hagan to victory in the GT1 class. That same year, driving for Hagan, Labonte went on to win the first of his two NASCAR Sprint Cup championships.
1995 Mark Martin
This was the last of Martin's four class victories in the Rolex 24 and this time one of his co-drivers was actor Paul Newman.
2001 Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The elder Earnhardt, the seven-time NASCAR Sprint Cup titlist, drove in the Rolex 24 At Daytona for the only time. He and his son were part of a four-driver Chevrolet Corvette team that finished second in the GTS class and fourth overall.
2004 Tony Stewart
The two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion was on the way to a victory before a tire problem sent his Chevrolet Crawford into the wall, merely 20 minutes before the race was finished. One of Stewart's co-drivers: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
2006 Casey Mears
The up-and-coming NASCAR driver, at the time winless in NASCAR Sprint Cup competition, teams with open-wheel stars Dan Wheldon and Scott Dixon to win the Rolex 24.
2007 Jeff Gordon
The four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion makes his Rolex 24 At Daytona debut and co-drives a Pontiac Riley to a third-place finish.