Ganassi teams rally at Daytona
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The final few hours of the Rolex 24 at Daytona were shaping up to be a showdown between the two cars from Chip Ganassi Racing.
The No. 01 and No. 02 both overcame early issues to put themselves at the top of the leaderboard Sunday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway. Joey Hand, driving the No. 01 BMW Riley, claimed the lead when the No. 02 went into the pits for a switch between NASCAR drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray.
It ended an aggressive run for Montoya, who bulldozed the No. 02 to the front during his driving stints. He had contact with at least three other cars during his Saturday stints, and he hit debris entering the pits during an overnight leg that sent the car to the garage for a front end change.
"Like Jamie said, Juan had an eventful night: Two front ends and eight bent wheels," Ganassi smiled.
But isn't that what you get from the Colombian considered one of the best drivers in the world?
"Hey, you don't hear me complaining," Ganassi said.
As McMurray waited in the pit for his NASCAR teammate to finish his stint, he joked he wanted to place a "Not JPM" sticker on the back of the No. 02 so that rival drivers wouldn't mistake him for Montoya and try to exact any revenge.
"Juan, like him or not, he's a really good race car driver," said McMurray, who has had a strictly work relationship with Montoya since they became teammates last year.
Montoya made no apologies for his driving style when he finished his stint around noon Sunday.
"Me? I am never aggressive. Never. I don't even know what you are talking about," he said, before finally conceding, "over the night, you have to be aggressive. There are some guys, you get beside them, and they just throw it in like you are not there."
And with teammate Hand closing in on his rear bumper, Montoya showed patience in not moving the slower car of Nic Jonsson, who was trying desperately to keep the Krohn Racing entry on the lead lap. Turned out it was team orders that kept Montoya in line, but he was annoyed when Jonsson didn't give Hand the same trouble.
"They came on the radio and said 'Whatever you do, do not touch him.' When they say that, you say 'Yes sir,' " Montoya said. "It makes it really hard when the leader comes, they give you a lot harder time than the other guys. I spent 10 laps, 15 laps, trying to pass the green car and I finally pass him and he lets the other car go and it's like 'Oh My God.'
"I was so hoping he was going to hold him and I was going to open it up, but it's pretty exciting."
It was for Ganassi, who was trying to get back to Victory Lane after two consecutive second-place finishes. A three-time winner of the Rolex from 2006 to 2008, he's fallen short the last two years and the 2010 defeat became especially jarring as Ganassi drivers went on to claim wins in three of the four most prestigious American races.
McMurray won the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400, while Dario Franchitti won the Indianapolis 500, leaving the Rolex the only hole on the resume.
Ganassi didn't care which of his two cars won the twice around-the-clock race, just so long as one of them picked up the Rolex watches.
"No team orders," he said. "It doesn't matter, as long as one of them wins."
Meanwhile, Patrick Dempsey's bid to win the most prestigious road race came to a close early Sunday when his car went off the course while leading its class.
Dempsey, the "Grey's Anatomy" star, brought two entries to the Rolex and drove the No. 40 Mazda into the lead of the Grand Touring class Sunday morning.
Tom Long was behind the wheel when he spun on his own with just under six hours remaining in the race. Long was unable to get the car restarted after a pit stop and the Dempsey Racing team fell four laps down.
It was the first time Dempsey has ever led a race at this level.
The weekend wasn't a complete loss for "McDreamy," though. He attended the Sundance Film Festival on Friday for the premier of his new film "Flypaper" and said it got strong reviews. He also produced the film.
Dempsey said after Saturday's driving stint that the trip from Daytona to Park City, Utah, and back to the track had left him exhausted, but thought the effort to participate in both events was worth the energy.
"It went really well. The screening was phenomenal. The response was huge right from the beginning," Dempsey said. "So on that side of things, I couldn't ask for a better response to the movie. It's the first time I've produced a movie and for it to be received that strongly was a really good thing.
"We paid for it a little [Saturday] with some fatigue, but we'll be good."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press
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