Wilson's error sinks Ganassi team
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The new Action Express Racing team showed up at Daytona International Speedway this week simply looking to take its new engine for a test run.
What a run it was.
Joao Barbosa powered the team to the 24 Hours of Daytona title Sunday, finishing an improbable victory in the organization's first appearance in the sports car endurance race.
"I think we would agree," teammate Ryan Dalziel said, "we didn't come into this thing thinking we had a realistic shot."
Neither did anybody else.
The team avoided major mechanical problems and benefited from a late blunder by star-studded Chip Ganassi Racing to win by about 50 seconds. No one else was within four laps of the lead.
Ganassi's Justin Wilson was leading before he made an ill-advised stop into the garage late, believing something was wrong with the No. 01 BMW Riley. The crew didn't find anything, and the difference was too much for teammate Scott Pruett to make up in the final two hours.
"It all happened so quick," Wilson said. "You don't have time to think. You just have to react."
The group that has dominated the race recently could only watch as it lost to a team with few sponsors that, weeks ago, didn't exist.
"What can I say? I'm out of words," Barbosa said. "The teammates, the crew, they did a great job. Action Express rocks and it's going to keep going through the year."
The group was formed in the offseason after Brumos Racing cut back to a one-car team. That prompted longtime Brumos affiliate Bob Johnson to assemble Action Express Racing, bringing some crew and drivers over.
"This is amazing," Johnson said minutes before the finish. "I can't even begin to describe it."
The move paid off quicker than anyone expected.
Barbosa, Dalziel, Terry Borcheller and Mike Rockenfeller deftly guided the No. 9 Porsche Riley through a rain-soaked start Saturday that caused cautions and spin outs for much of the field. They avoided accidents and poor pit stops that pushed so many others behind, and they didn't succumb to the pressure in the final hours.
"I think as a new team to come here, I think it's a huge accomplishment to our crew," Dalziel said. "A lot of these guys only came together at the start of January."
Ganassi had three straight wins in the prestigious endurance race until finishing second the last two years. The biggest blow it took in this one was self-inflicted.
Wilson pulled the car into the garage with about three hours remaining after he said he heard a popping noise. Crew members scurried to find a problem, losing the lead and falling behind by a lap.
"I heard a loud clank and the car kind of whacked," Wilson said. "I thought I'd blown a front tire or something like that, and being so close to the garage, I figured I'd pull it in."
That was the second disappointment of the race for the favored Ganassi team.
Ganassi's No. 02 car retired in the early morning hours because of engine failure. Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya, Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon and Jamie McMurray had led a combined 139 of the opening 247 laps.
Then suddenly, stunningly, they were out.
"I did well at times and I struggled at times," said McMurray, who lost some ground before Montoya took the wheel back and the engine failed. "I didn't want to be the guy who runs the car off and messes it up for everybody else."
Holding off Ganassi made the victory even sweeter for Action Express Racing.
To beat the best so fast in a race that's so long, there was no room for mistakes. From weaving through the 3.56-mile road course that encompasses about three-fourths of the NASCAR track, to fast pit stops and accelerating on the straightaways, Action Express did it better for longer than anybody.
Playing spoilers was fun, too.
As Dalziel deadpanned moments after passing off the driver's seat for the final time, "Nobody wants to see Ganassi win again. Somebody different needs to win."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press
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