Scott Pruett wins for Ganassi at Daytona
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- America's longest endurance race came down to a one-lap sprint.
No surprise, the winner ended up being the guy with more wins in the Grand-Am Series than anybody else.
Three-time and defending series champion Scott Pruett drove the last leg of the Rolex 24 at Daytona and held off Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon during a final restart.
Pruett's smooth restart helped him pull away from Dixon and third-place finisher Joao Barbosa after the green-white restart and clinch the Daytona Prototype class by 2.42 seconds. It was Pruett's 32nd win in the series and his fourth Rolex 24 victory (1994, 2007, 2008). It could be his most meaningful, too.
This one capped the "Ganassi Slam."
Ganassi became the only car owner to win the four biggest races in the United States during a 12-month period. His drivers won the Daytona 500, the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400 last year.
"I don't drive the cars, I don't change the tires, I don't work on the engines. There's a lot of great competitors that it takes to make up a team," Ganassi said. "I'm just the guy that gets to stand up here and talk about it. It's the guys that do all the work."
Pruett and co-drivers Memo Rojas, Joey Hand and Graham Rahal celebrated with Ganassi and fellow team owner Felix Sabates in Victory Lane. They received electric guitars and Rolex watches to go with the memory of winning at one of racing's most hallowed tracks.
Pruett and Rojas teamed to win nine of 12 races in the Grand-Am Series last year, but they came up short in the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway. They also finished second in 2009.
"There's a lot of should've, would've, could've," Pruett said. "I was right there the last two years. ... I lived it. Chip as well. We lived it the last two years. So it's certainly nice to be back in Victory Lane. At the end of the day, it's exciting for our team to have a 1-2 finish. That's how you one-up what you do here. I think that's absolutely amazing."
Pruett used pit strategy to get his No. 01 BMW Riley ahead of the other Ganassi entry in the final hour and stayed out front down the stretch. Pruett, Rojas, Hand and Rahal ended up racing 721 laps and more than 2,566 miles. More importantly, they overcame several setbacks.
The car went down two laps Saturday because of a gear box issue and fell as low as 18th in the DP class before getting back near the front. The last problem looked like it might doom the team.
Hand, who consistently clocked the event's fastest laps, drove to the front of the field in the closing hours. But he hit a tire on pit road and received a drive-through penalty that included a 30-second stop. He dropped 51 seconds behind the lead pack, but made up 30 seconds under green-flag conditions.
Pruett took over from there, driving the final 110 minutes. He made up the rest of the ground by pitting earlier than the others on the lead lap and taking advantage of new tires.
"Obviously, all of us were a little disappointed with that [penalty], but you can't think about it," Pruett said. "You've got to keep focusing on getting to Victory Lane. The thing all these drivers did up here is keep the car absolutely immaculate.
"If you look at that car, there may be a few scratches, but that's what it takes to win and be in contention for this race. Our car's not beat up, it's not tore up, it's not banged up, it's still a strong piece."
It certainly was too fast for the No. 02 Ganassi entry, the one with the star-studded lineup of Dixon, Dario Franchitti, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray.
The No. 02 team faded late as track temperature rose, and the four drivers were clearly disappointed with the second-place finish.
"You can't go home being happy knowing that you had a chance," Montoya said.
Nonetheless, they celebrated with Ganassi.
"It's really quite amazing what Chip's done," McMurray said. "From a team side of it, it's really amazing for not only this group, but just the whole organization what he's been able to accomplish. It's incredible."
Defending race winner Action Express finished third with Barbosa, Terry Borcheller, Christian Fittipaldi, Max Papis and JC France behind the wheel.
"A 24-hour race went down to a green-white-checkered, and this never happens," Papis said. "You don't know the winner until the last lap? That, to me, it was amazing. It was something that in my 17 Daytona 24 hours, I've never seen and I never would imagine when I came here in 1996."
Andy Lally led TRG Racing to a two-lap victory in the Grand Touring class. Lally claimed the pole, but started in the back of the field after failing post-qualifying inspection. The team drove the final 17 hours without a clutch.
Patrick Dempsey's team finished third in the GT class, giving the "Grey's Anatomy" star his best finish and a memorable weekend. It came two days after he appeared at the Sundance Film Festival for the premier of his new film "Flypaper." He produced the film and said it got strong reviews.
Dempsey was in tears talking about his third-place finish.
There were no tears for Ganassi. Just more jubilation.
"You're just really fortunate to be in any sport or any business or any endeavor with a group of people that Felix and I are as lucky to have working for us, driving for us and being a part of the team," Ganassi said. "It's a great thing to be a part of a group of people that want to be a team, and they want to excel and they want to do well. That's a great thing to be a part of in life."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press
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