Salvage Fifth-Place Finish in Sunday's Supercar Life 250 at Thunderbolt Raceway
GAINSCO Leads Record 11th Race but a Block and Bump-And Run Steal an N.J. Victory
GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing led a 2008 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series race for a record 11th time this season but a block by one competitor while leading and a questionable bump-and-run by another while battling for the win late in the race resulted in a fifth-place finish for Alex Gurney, Jon Fogarty and the No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Pontiac Riley in Sunday's inaugural Supercar Life 250 on the new Thunderbolt Raceway at the debuting New Jersey Motorsports Park.
After Fogarty started fourth on the grid, GAINSCO combined an early splash-and-go strategy with even better pit stops later in the race to move to the front of the field. Gurney took over for Fogarty during a Lap 19 stop under caution just past the race's 30 minute mark, and GAINSCO took the race lead when the No. 99 and the rest of the top Daytona Prototype competitors pit for the final time on Lap 57. The always-fast GAINSCO crew got Gurney out of the pits in front of the field and the No. 99 was in control of the race.
Soon after the race returned to green of Lap 59, however, the bad luck that has plagued GAINSCO all season once again struck while the team was leading a race. A Krohn Racing Pontiac Lola was exiting the pits and moved right into the path of Gurney, who was being hotly pursued by the rest of the lead pack. Gurney lifted to avoid contact and quickly slipped to fifth place.
"I feel like I have had some pretty bad luck this year with traffic in general," Gurney said. "It is a shame I had somebody come in front of me right after we took the lead. We had an amazing pit stop and I thought we were in good shape. The car was really not good on restarts at all, I really struggled and I just spun the wheels almost for an entire lap, but we were still okay."
Gurney kept his focus after the setback, set the No. 99's fastest race lap on Lap 65 (1:12.729) and was back up to second place before Lap 70. He was running close behind leader and eventual race winner Oswaldo Negri in the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley only to go off track after being hit from behind by Max Angelelli in the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Dallara in Turn 5 on Lap 89. Grand-Am officials did not assess a penalty to Angelelli, and reportedly deemed the contact a "racing incident."
"I was working on Oz (Negri) a little bit with Angelelli right behind me," Gurney said. "I caught a GT car going into Turn 3 and Max was able to gain some ground, and then going into Turn 5, he just ran into the back of me. I have no idea how the officials could call it a racing incident because he wasn't alongside of me, he just hit me in the back. That put me off the track and the car filled inside with dirt and I struggled to see the rest of the time. I just tried to hang on from that point on."
Gurney crossed the finish line in fifth place just over four seconds behind winner Negri, who was joined in the No. 60 by Mark Patterson, but both he and Fogarty knew the team was on track for a better result than the one with which they ended up.
"The race was pretty good for the GAINSCO team," Fogarty said. "We did a good job. We had a pretty good strategy and our Engineer Kyle Brannan was calm and collected in making the right calls, and that got us into the lead. We had the pace and it was looking alright until what happened with the No. 10 car. I am disappointed in what happened but not entirely surprised. The team did everything they could to have a championship performance and we certainly had a race car that was a winner, or at least good for the podium, but somebody else wasn't going to let that happen."
Team owner Bob Stallings left his usual spot in the GAINSCO team pit to serve as an official spotter for Gurney and Fogarty all weekend. He was atop the spotter's tower during the race and had a great view of all of the action, good and bad.
"I couldn't be more proud of the team and the drivers," Stallings said. "That last pit stop was absolutely incredible, I mean just total money. It has been a weird year. We have had so many chances to win and things just have not gone our way. It has been just the opposite of the season we had in 2007. I can't even express how disappointed I am in how the race was run. In my opinion, we shouldn't have been at this track this soon, it was a poor show and the officials made what I believed to be a very unfortunate call. I am really disappointed that it had to happen that way."
GAINSCO finished four positions ahead of the championship-leading No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas, but it wasn't enough to keep repeat title hopes alive. Despite the ninth-place finish in a back-up car pressed into service after Pruett's Thursday practice accident, the Ganassi squad clinched the 2008 Rolex Series Championships with 386 points. With a Rolex Series race win worth a maximum 35 points, GAINSCO and its drivers are out of reach of the 2008 titles as their current total of 348 points is 38 behind Ganassi. On the plus side, GAINSCO practically locked-in second place in the championship over the No. 58 Brumos Porsche Riley team of Darren Law and David Donohue, who finished 10th in the Supercar Life 250. Brumos has 313 points – exactly 35 points behind GAINSCO – and all that the No. 99 team needs to do is start the season-finale next month at Miller Motorsports Park and have Gurney and Fogarty each drive 30 minutes to clinch runner-up honors.
The season-ending SunChaser 1000 at Miller Motorsports Park in Salt Lake City, Utah, is next up for GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing and the Rolex Series, Saturday, September 20. Live coverage on SPEED starts at 1 p.m. ET.
While GAINSCO's bid for repeat Rolex Series Championships is officially over, Gurney, Fogarty and Stallings know they are surrounded by winners. "It has been a tough year but that doesn't change the fact that we have got a great team," Fogarty said. "We have one more race this year in Salt Lake City and have more championships to win down the line." …
Stallings took the time to stop by and congratulate the Ganassi team in the paddock after the race. "My hat is off to the No. 01 team on their championship," Stallings said. "As much as I hate losing to them – and I really do, I don't like to lose – they are a very professional team. Every guy on that team has been a pro all year. I am not excited about some of the personalities over there, but there is no denying that those guys deserved to win the title. They did everything right and that is how you win championships." …
GAINSCO's series-best run of leading 11 of 13 races this year is one better than the 10 races Ganassi has led. The only races GAINSCO has failed to lead this year were at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in May and two races ago in the Crown Royal 200 at The Glen.