(Jan. 6, 2008) – Jimmie Johnson isn’t just competing in the Rolex 24 At Daytona on Jan. 26-27 to unwind and relax before the start of the new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season and the 50th running of the Daytona 500.
In what will be his fourth career Rolex 24 start, Johnson is hungry to win the prestigious sports car race co-driving the No. 99 Lowe’s/GAINSCO Auto Insurance Pontiac Riley with teammates Alex Gurney, Jon Fogarty and Jimmy Vasser.
“I’m here strictly to win,” said Johnson, the two-time defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion and 2006 Daytona 500 winner. “I will have fun during the event and all that but this team is a championship winning team, a race winning team and we’re here to win the race.”
Johnson is co-driving for one of the pre-race favorites to win the Rolex 24. The No. 99 car won the 2007 Daytona Prototype championship with Gurney and Fogarty, sat on the pole for last year’s Rolex 24 and captured the Brumos Porsche 250 last July at DIS.
“The first two years, it was more for fun,” Johnson said of his first two Rolex 24 starts in 2004 and 2005. “Then I took a year off and I watched Casey Mears, a great friend of mine, win and I watched the event on television. 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.’
“Being a lineup with guys like this, it’s really a dream come true to come down here and compete and be a favorite for this event.”
Fastest of the test: The No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley and driver Scott Pruett will leave the three-day Rolex 24 test as the fastest. Pruett, who will co-drive the car with Memo Rojas, Dario Franchitti and Juan Pablo Montoya, turned a fast lap of one minute, 41.232 seconds in the second practice session on Friday.
Rounding out the top three overall were the No. 9 Penske-Taylor Pontiac Riley (1:41.277) and the No. 6 Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley (1:41.555).
Bell gets in gear: Derek Bell, a three-time winner of the Rolex 24, took his first laps in a Daytona Prototype during Saturday night’s test session. Bell got behind the wheel of the No. 12 RVO Motorsports Pontiac Riley, which his son Justin also drives.
Bell, who is actually a former Grand Marshal for the Rolex 24, struggled with the release on the sequential gear box. He hadn’t driven a sports car with a sequential gear box since he got behind the wheel of the Ferrari 333 SP back at DIS in
“I was panicking coming into these corners at 180 mph and I couldn’t get into a gear to go around,” said Bell, who is considering competing in this year’s Rolex 24 with RVO. “I really felt like an old woman driving around last night. I really did enjoy it. The car is a delight to drive.”
Lester moving to sports car full time: Bill Lester’s career is coming full circle. After spending the past several seasons in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, Lester is returning to where he started his driving career and that’s behind the wheel of a sports car.
Lester announced that he will be competing on a full-time basis in the Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 with co-driver Shane Lewis and Southard Motorsports.
“I’m excited to be back here to essentially my roots,” Lester said. “I always felt comfortable road racing a sports car. It’s like riding a bike, it just feels immediately comfortable again.”
Lester got his first taste in racing back in the late 1980s and 1990s driving sports cars before making a move to NASCAR and has five Rolex 24 starts under his belt.
“Shane and I are very similar in what we want out of a car,” Lester said of his co-driver. “Our driving techniques tend to complement each other and our feedback tends to be very similar.”
Next Up: NASCAR Preseason Thunder takes center stage on Monday with the first wave of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series testing. The session runs 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and fans can view all the action from the Oldfield Grandstand with free access through the lobby of Daytona 500 Experience.
The NASCAR Preseason Thunder Fan Fest for the first wave of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams will be on Tuesday.
The NASCAR Preseason Thunder Fan Fest events start at 5 p.m. but fans will be able to enter the Sprint FANZONE beginning at 9 a.m. to watch all of the exciting testing action. Admission is $15.
Fans will be able to get a sneak peek on NASCAR teams as they prepare for DIRECTV Speedweeks 2008 with inquisitive fan forums with many of their favorite drivers as well as enjoying all the state-of-the-art amenities in the popular Sprint FANZONE.
Also included in NASCAR Preseason Thunder Fan Fests will be music, displays, pit stop demonstrations, a silent auction and passenger hot laps around the 2.5-mile tri-oval in pace cars (additional $25).
All testing sessions throughout January continue to be free and open to the public with access to the Oldfield Grandstand through the lobby of Daytona 500 Experience.
Rolex 24 Tickets: Race fans can purchase their tickets for the 46th anniversary of the Rolex 24 At Daytona on Jan. 26-27 online at www.racetickets.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP. If race fans purchase a two-day advance infield/grandstand ticket by Jan. 19, they will receive a collectible Rolex 24 hat.