Jimmie Johnson, a 7-time NASCAR champion, showed up at Daytona International Speedway last week for the Roar Before the Rolex 24 feeling more like he was in mid-season form than climbing behind the wheel for the annual season start-up session most racers use to brush off the dust.
That’s because since Johnson, a two DAYTONA 500 champion, completed his final NASCAR full-time season in November, the stock car champ has spent the last months testing IndyCars around the country – from tracks in Laguna Seca, California, to Sebring, Florida – preparing for his inaugural season in the IndyCar Series driving road course events for Chip Ganassi Racing.
For this weekend, however, Johnson is preparing to make his first start in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Rolex 24 At DAYTONA in a decade – sharing driving duties of the No. 48 Ally Cadillac Racing Cadillac DPi with Indy 500 champion Simon Pagenaud, two-time Rolex 24 winner Kamui Kobayashi and veteran sports car ace Mike Rockenfeller. He and Kobayashi qualified sixth this past Sunday in class as part of the Motul Pole Award 100.
“I would say this has been the busiest offseason I’ve ever had,’’ Johnson said with a laugh. “I was in an IndyCar immediately following the season finale for NASCAR. The IndyCar team and this prototype, there’s sim (sessions) for IndyCar and prototype, seats to be fit for all three cars and learning crew members, teams, systems, meetings. It is by far the busiest winter.
“(My wife) Chandi and I joke all the time, here we thought I was slowing down and it’s been way busier than I’ve ever experienced for a standard November to January.”
The last time Johnson competed in the Rolex 24 race was 2011, co-driving with Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty. He has seven total starts in the famous twice around-the-clock event, with a best showing of runner-up in 2005 and 2008.
A familiar face will be on the pit box for Johnson. Chad Knaus, crew chief on Johnson’s seven NASCAR Cup Series title runs, has signed on to help Action Express Racing on the engineering side of this Rolex 24 effort. Several Hendrick Motorsports crew members will be helping out in the pits as well.
“We do have some Hendrick Motorsports guys sprinkled throughout and it’s been great to work with them,’’ Johnson said. “(Chad’s) been involved. I just left the transporter where my teammates and I were getting into the driver data, and Chad’s on the computer helping us find our way through and find the right settings to look at, so he’d definitely ingrained with the team.
“It’s awesome. There’s nothing weird about it and it’s very meaningful to me and I know it is to him, to be back working together. It’s been awesome and I’m really, really excited about it.”
The 59th running of the Rolex 24 At DAYTONA starts at 3:40 p.m. ET Saturday, Jan. 30. Live race-day coverage starts on NBC at 3:30 p.m.
Two-day admissions to the storied, twice-around-the-clock Rolex 24 are just $68 with kids 12 and under free. Guests will safely experience a host of sights and sounds that include a fireworks show, the Ferris Wheel at the Boardwalk, entry into the infield UNOH Fanzone, and a host of fun exhibits and displays.
Single-day tickets are available Thursday ($10 – includes on-track practices) and Friday ($30 – includes on-track practices and the BMW Endurance Challenge 4-hour race). To learn more on Rolex 24 admission opportunities, call 1-800-PITSTOP or log onto www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com.
As a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Rolex 24 will be conducted in accordance with enhanced safety protocols and procedures to provide a safe environment for guests, IMSA competitors, employees and the local community. All guests will be screened before entering the facility and will be required to wear face coverings while maintaining six feet social distancing throughout their visit.
For a schedule of on-track activities and protocols, logo onto www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com. Fans can stay connected with Daytona International Speedway on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for the latest speedway news.
About Daytona International Speedway
Daytona International Speedway is a state-of-the-art motorsports facility and was awarded the SportsBusiness Journal’s prestigious Sports Business Award for Sports Facility of the Year in 2016. Daytona International Speedway is the home of The Great American Race – the DAYTONA 500. Though the season-opening NASCAR Cup Series event garners most of the attention – as well as the largest audience in motorsports – the approximately 500-acre motorsports complex, also known as the World Center of Racing, boasts the most diverse schedule of racing on the globe. In addition to at least nine major event weekends, the Speedway grounds are also used extensively for events that include concerts, civic and social gatherings, car shows, photo shoots, production vehicle testing and police motorcycle training.