GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing and Alex Gurney Qualify 11th for Rolex 24 At Daytona for the Second Consecutive Year
No. 99 GAINSCO Team Focuses On Race Strategy after Qualifying Goes As Expected
GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing and Alex Gurney will start 11th in the Rolex 24 At Daytona for the second consecutive year after a solid but unsurprising qualifying run Thursday on the 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.
"We knew from the test that weren't really going to be a threat for the pole," said Gurney, who turned a top lap time of 1:41.666 (126.060 mph). "Car wise, we haven't focused much on qualifying. We have really been working on the race and we can certainly win from 11th. It felt like we got a good lap and we improved the car, so it wasn't too bad."
Gurney improved his times repeatedly through the quick 15-minute qualifying run and recorded his fastest time on his 8th and final lap of the session. Gurney also qualified 11th for last year's Rolex 24 but moved to the front of the field a little over one-hour into the race. Gurney and teammates Jon Fogarty, Jimmy Vasser and Jimmie Johnson frequently led and challenged for the win throughout the 2008 event and ultimately finished second to record GAINSCO's best career result in the Rolex 24.
"We are working pretty good and that was another step in the right direction in qualifying, for sure," Gurney said. "We will keep fine tuning on Friday, make sure we have done all of our driver changes and just be ready for the long haul."
While a pair of 11th place qualifying efforts are not on pace with Gurney's 2007 Rolex 24 pole, teammate Vasser has noticed something this year that may still give GAINSCO an edge.
"This year it seems to be a little more relaxed and I think good things are born out of attitudes like that," said Vasser, who has been with GAINSCO for all three of its previous Rolex 24 attempts. "Don't get me wrong, all four of us will push hard, but there is a tone in the air that I think is good. There is a lot of camaraderie and a good chemistry going on in the team, more so than in any other year. The team is as prepared as it has ever been and just been able to take it one step better."
Unseasonably cold temperatures could also factor into the race. Temperatures Thursday morning only reached the upper 30s and the high for the day never broke 60 degrees.
"With the cool temperatures, it is definitely really slick when you first leave the pits on cold tires," Gurney said. "That exit to pit lane is real tricky, so you have got to be careful, but it should be fine."
Fogarty has run in all kinds of conditions at Daytona and is ready for any type of weather.
"The weather can really change here, you never know what is coming, and we have seen that in previous years," Fogarty said. "It is just one of the many X, Y and Z factors we deal with in this race."
After Gurney drove the opening stint in this morning's first practice, three-time reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Johnson took the wheel of the No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Pontiac Riley. Johnson is running in his second straight Rolex 24 with GAINSCO and fifth time overall in the race since 2004.
"I just love the challenge of this race," Johnson said. "I really enjoy the series, the cars and the people, everything about it. It's always a new challenge to me and hopefully I can spend even more time in the car. The Rolex 24 works out really well with our schedule, I am able to test and spend the time getting up to speed with the guys. I am just excited to be here and hopefully I will be a frequent fixture at this race, and I hope to be a race winner after this weekend."
Thursday's schedule will close with a two-hour night practice at 6:30 p.m. ET and each of GAINSCO's four drivers is scheduled to take some laps under the lights on the Daytona road course.
The 47th annual Rolex 24 At Daytona starts this Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET. FOX will air the first 90 minutes of the Rolex 24 broadcast starting at 3 p.m. ET before the live coverage switches over to SPEED for the balance of the race.